Virgin Mary: Trust and Obedience in the Lord

On this solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25th, we remember St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation:

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”

“And when the angel had come to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” When she had heard him she was troubled at his word and kept pondering what manner of greeting this might be.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end”

“But Mary said to the angel, “How shall this happen, since I do not know man?”

“And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; and therefore the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth thy kinswoman also has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month; for nothing shall be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1: 26-38)

Mary, the Blessed Mother, the Theotokos – “the God bearer” at first, questions Gabriel, “How shall this happen…” Upon his explanation Mary undertakes her all important journey with perfect trust and obedience to God’s will. She accepts her eternal role not in fear but in love. Mary will be the God Bearer, the bearer of her Son Jesus, our Savior, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus, at the moment of His conception, is both true God and true man: two natures in one Person.

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Icon of Mary: it is the icon called The Madonna of Saint Sisto, located in Rome in the Dominican convent of Monte Mario. It is one of the oldest and most beautiful icons of the Virgin from antiquity.

 

Mary is the perfect disciple of God. She provides us with the model of love, obedience, and trust in Him. There were many times throughout her life that she had to express her trust and obedience, and at times not knowing where the journey would lead. It led from the great joy of her pregnancy, Jesus’ birth, family life, through to His ministry, and her motherly presence before the Holy Cross.

A few verses later, in her beautiful canticle the Magnificat, she exclaimed to her kinswoman Elizabeth her lack of doubt in what has happened.  She praises the mercy of God and her willingness to be the servant of Him who is faithful to His word. In her humility, trust, love, and obedience to God, Mary, as the New Eve, will be given the privilege of crushing Satan at the end of time.

From the beginning, the Catholic Church has never worshipped Mary. The Church venerates her as the first disciple and its greatest saint.

On this beautiful Solemnity of the Annunciation let us join with the great St. John Henry Cardinal Newman in his prayer to Jesus: “Dear Jesus, Your Holy Mother cooperated with the divine plan for the human race. Let me try to imitate her in her obedience and service to You.” Thank you, Jesus.

Note: The sacred image that appears at the top of all of my posts is The Annunciation by Fra Angelico.

Copyright © 2011- 2020, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

The Assumption of Our Mother Mary – We Venerate Her Today

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A 21st century icon by Marek Czarnecki, an American Roman Catholic iconographer. 

We celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. In her honor let us review some the Church’s truths; dogmas which progressed to the point of Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaiming the meaning of the Blessed Mother’s life and her Assumption into Heaven.

We are able to see this progression through Sacred Scripture, the various early ecumenical Councils of the Church, the individual writings of the early Church fathers (such as St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Cassian, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. John of Damascus, and the Gothic Missal of the 6th century).
The Church’s movement through the process of unfolding the truths that were to become its dogmas progressed over time. Below are a few key occurrences which provide evidence for the debate and development proclaiming the dogmas of the Church.
• In AD 313, the Emperor Constantine declares that Christians can freely worship throughout the Roman Empire, thus, providing for a peaceful development of Christian communities, formal places of worship, and the continuation of theological scholarship and Scripture study.
• In 325, the Council of Nicea declared that the Father and the Son are consubstantial  (that is, having the same substance);
• In 381, the Edict of Emperor Theodosius declared that Christianity is the official religion of the Roman Empire (the Roman Empire formally collapsed in 476);
• In 431, the Council of Ephesus proclaimed that Mary is the Mother of God, that is, mother of the human nature of Jesus: Mary is declared to be the Theotokos, the God Bearer –  Mother of the Son of God’s human nature.
• In 451, the Council of Chalcedon declared that two natures, both human and divine, coexist in Jesus Christ;
In 1950, Venerable Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, declared the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of the Faith. Dogmas are defined as the set of principles of the Church which are unquestionably true, and must be accepted and believed if a person is a member of one of the Rites of the Catholic Church.
Pope Pius XII tells us in this Apostolic Constitution that “from the second century the holy Fathers present the Virgin Mary as the new Eve, most closely associated with her Son, the new Adam.”
“She is subject to Him in the struggle again the enemy (Satan).”  Confer the Book of Revelation (chapter 12, verse 1 ff) on her role in the war with the  deceiver of mankind.
Pope Pius XII continues: “Hence, the august Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her divine motherhood, the whole hearted companion of the divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained at last the supreme crown of her privileges: to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of Heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal king of the ages.”
Mary is not a goddess. Eastern and Western Rite Catholics do not worship her, rather, we venerate her as the greatest of all the saints.
Catholics view the Blessed Mother Mary as an intercessor. As our spiritual Mother she intercedes with Jesus, similar to our biological mother interceding on our behalf with our biological father. Eastern and Western Rite Catholics do this because this example of her intercession is seen in Sacred Scripture, when at the Wedding Feast of Cana Mary intercedes with her Son to help the newly married couple avoid embarrassment and additional expense.
Mary is always present and truly cares for all of us. We should never ignore her.
May Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother bless you and your loved ones on this holy day of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.
P.S.  I’d like to thank all the new followers of this blog who came aboard this summer. I pray that you continue to find my posts beneficial. I would like to thank Mr. Marek Czarnecki for use of the image of his beautiful icon of the Assumption of Mary. I had the pleasure and good fortune of studying with him during one of his workshops a number of years ago.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

Fra Angelico – The “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition – Part 1

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts is the only venue in America for the extraordinary “Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth” exhibition. This amazing collection of reliquaries which express the life of the Virgin Mary, and other paintings of the greatest painter of the Early Renaissance, will be on display until this Sunday May 20th, 2018. Earlier incorrect media reports had the last day as May 28th.

I will be posting my photos of the Gardner Museum’s exhibit starting with this post and continuing on through the upcoming weeks and months. The exhibit consists of more than just the exquisite four reliquaries and it will be my pleasure to bring to you my photos of all of it. I am grateful to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for allowing me to take photographs of the exhibit.

I will proceed with the first photo showing the image that you see as you climb the stairs of the Museum to the second floor where the exhibit is located. That image is of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels as she ascends in a vortex-like movement, toward God the Father. The reliquary containing the complete image was acquired by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899. This is the first time in history that all four reliquaries are reunited since they were split up and acquired by collectors and museums around the world.

My wife and I were privileged to visit the Museum and exhibition last week. Words cannot describe the restored reliquaries and paintings in this display.  I am not embarrassed to say that at one point I was choked up with emotion as to the beauty, technical skill, narrative brilliance in explaining Sacred Scripture, and the theological depth that Fra Angelico expressed in these sacred images.

Beato Fra Angelico (birth name Guido di Pietro) was a Dominican friar and known by his religious name as Brother John of Fiesole. The first historical record of Fra Angelico as a painter is the 1418 record of payment for a painting commissioned by the church of Santo Stefano al Ponte in Florence. Fra Angelico is believed to have been born in the late 1390’s and died in 1455. He is buried in Rome at the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. He was beatified (beato) by Pope Saint John Paul 2 on October 3, 1982, and in 1984 the Pope declared that Fra Angelico was the patron of Catholic artists (that is why I named this blog after him). Beato Fra Angelico’s feast day is celebrated every year on February 18th.

As you come up the stairs  leading to the second floor of the Museum and turn the corner you first see an enlarged version of Fra Angelico’s Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin located below. This image is showcased because it is found within the reliquary acquired by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899.

Adj ASSUMPTION FRA A.

This enlarged version of the Virgin Mary is found within the reliquary, and is its centerpiece, seen below.Dormition and Assumption

The above outer frame and base, which contains Fra Angelico’s painting, is known as a   reliquary. A reliquary is a container which holds the relics (bones, hair, etc) of deceased holy people or declared saints of the Roman Catholic Church. The reliquary allows the faithful to venerate, not worship, the life, deeds, and mortal remains of the person whose relics it contains. Fra Angelico painted the four reliquaries’ images specifically for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence between the years 1424 through 1434 The painting is rendered in egg tempera, oil glazes, and gold. It is simply stunning.

There is another separate painting in the exhibit which concentrates just on the dormition of the Virgin Mary. I will show that to you in the next post.

The “Heaven on Earth” exhibition is made possible with the support, in part, by the Robert Lehman Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council (the Council receives its funding from the State of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts). The media sponsor is WBUR in Boston. The Museum’s Executive Director, chief conservator, curators, conservators, and support staff brilliantly provided the technical expertise and planning for this exhibit. The companion book, edited by Dr. Nathaniel Silver (with contributions by more than ten experts) is also very well done and a worthy addition to your library.

Photos and text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018. Thanks again to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for this beautiful exhibit and enabling the public to enjoy, be edified, and to take photos of it.

Zeppole, St. Joseph, and Sacred Art

Yesterday, March 19th, Catholics happily celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph. Today’s post is slightly different from those previous in that it will discuss an Italian pastry in relation to   a  symbol found in Catholic sacred art. We are breaking new ground here!

A little history is in order. In the 1800’s, a creative baker in the city of Naples, Italy made, for the first time, a pastry known as the zeppola (plural, zeppole). Through the years other areas created this delicacy, too, such as the islands of Sardinia, Sicily, and Malta. This traditional pastry travelled with the Italian immigrants to America and Canada, and, I am happy to say that it continues, and finds its apogee, in the southern New England area of America.

But first things first. This blog normally talks about Gospel truths, Catholic and Orthodox sacred art, iconography, the relationship of art to Catholic prayer, saints, etc. This is my first venture in discussing pastry cuisine (!), but, in this case I think it is important. Why?  Because in my opinion, the noble zeppola reflects a Catholic religious symbol. Obviously I am not sure the original baker (Pasquale Pintauro from Naples) desired to reflect this in his magnificent creation, but, in my opinion, it is there. More on that in a moment.

First, a quick overview of the artistic symbolism associated with St. Joseph. Many sacred  images of St. Joseph either alone, or with  the child Jesus, usually has him holding a rod with a flower or flowers at the top. In one hand he holds the rod, in the other, he is holding the child Jesus next to his chest. A simple example of this is found in the statue below.

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There are variations of this basic model and many portray the artistic emotion and sentimentality that was popular during times past. Yet, what does the symbol of the rod mean? Does it have any basis in history? What does it have to do (in my opinion) with the noble zeppole?

Catholic tradition in this matter starts with Jewish custom. Rev. Maurice Meschler, S.J. describes the legend associated with this image in his excellent book on St. Joseph. He mentions that an ancient book entitled De Ortu Virginis, explains an occurrence in the city of Jerusalem in the  first century AD, he writes,  “...the Jewish priests in accordance with a special revelation received from the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem, are supposed to have ordained that, in a manner like the one in which Aaron had been chosen by God to be high priest of the Temple, all the young men of the family of David were to place a branch or a rod on the threshold of the Holy of Holies; and the one whose rod should become green and blossom, and upon which the Holy Spirit should visibly descend, was to be the spouse of the most Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Joseph alone, whether from a motive of humility or love of virginity, did not present his rod; and thus no decision was arrived at. When the priests had instituted an inquiry into the affair, God answered that the rod of a man of the family of David was still missing. Joseph therefore [because he possessed the virtue of obedience] brought his rod, and lo! it blossomed. The Holy Spirit descended upon it, and Joseph became the spouse of Mary. It is for this reason that Saint Joseph is often depicted with a blossoming rod in his hand, while upon its crown, even in very early representations of art, rests the Holy Spirit.” Rev. Meschler explains in his chapter on the espousals of Joseph and Mary that the sacerdotal purpose of their mutual virginity sealed the marital bond between these two people, chosen by God, to be instruments of His work in redeeming His creation.

So what does that have to do with custom of eating zeppole on the Feast of St. Joseph? It is my opinion that the 19th century Neapolitan baker, Pasquale Pintauro, would certainly have known of the symbol of the flowering rod held by St. Joseph, after all he would have seen it in churches and statues found throughout Naples.

With this in mind, the creation of the zeppole pastry was his way of expressing the branch or rod and flower portrayed by sacred artists. This is especially seen in its presentation by a Rhode Island bakery by the name of DeLuise (it is found on Oaklawn Avenue in the city of Cranston and on Chalkstone Avenue in the capital city, Providence. By the way they make the finest zeppoles in southern New England. We drove down from Massachusetts to buy them at the Cranston store). Notice the photos below of the mini zeppole I happily consumed last night.

 

 

 

So, here comes my  critical analysis (!): the rough textured spiral side represents the branch or the rod of the family line of King David. The red cherry on the top of the pastry indicates the descent of the Holy Spirit which is represented by the miraculous flower.  The cream filled center represents that the unique family line of King David would again flower – and be fruitful – through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The desire of God to redeem His creation was made possible because of the care of His Son, as a babe and youngster,  by Joseph and Mary – both members of the Davidic family line. Every year on March 19th Catholics throughout the world celebrate this fact by consuming the noble zeppole – the the staff  and flower – of the Feast of St. Joseph .

Thanks for reading! It was fun to write, but even more joyful to eat!

Copyright © 2011- 2018 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Photos of the zeppole by the author.

 

Pope Benedict 16th and the Virtues of Humility and Patience

May the Peace of Christ be with you on this unique day in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Today we commemorate the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes which reminds us that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858 at Lourdes, France. Her message was clear and concise to the young Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” She requested Bernadette to tell the local clergy that a church should be built on the site of the apparition so that the sick and suffering might come to find comfort, and healing of both body and soul.
A beautiful church was built, and on a yearly basis hundreds of thousands of people  come to Lourdes to be in prayerful union with the suffering Christ and His Immaculate Mother.
In 1992 Pope John Paul 2nd declared this day as the “World Day of the Sick.” He said that this day was to be a “special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church, and of reminding us to see in our sick brothers and sisters the face of Christ, who, by suffering, dying, and rising, achieved the salvation of humankind.”
John Paul 2 in his later years provided a great witness to the nobility of the elderly since he modeled for us the suffering Christ. His successor and close friend, Pope Benedict 16th, has also given us the witness of a man who silently suffered many troubles while valiantly leading the Church and protecting its traditions and spiritual truths.
With the news this morning of Pope Benedict’s announcement of his planned resignation on February 28th the Church has entered a transitional period which has not occurred since Pope Gregory 12th resigned the papacy in 1415.
What does this tell us?
It tells us that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Holy Catholic Church. Christ is the Head of the Church and we, faith-filled clergy and laity, are its Body.
The papacy, originating with St. Peter, has provided the Church with the leadership that was and is required in any continually maturing and growing institution.
The papacy has, at times, been on a roller coaster ride of popularity, yet, throughout the two thousand years of its history it has never done anything to confuse or limit the truths found in the revealed word of God or the Traditional faith and moral teachings of the Church itself.
People may like the personality or find the historical stance or perception of one pope more acceptable than another, yet, if one truly looks at the history of the papacy, without the proverbial axe to grind, you find an institution based in the humanity of Jesus Christ giving Peter “the Keys to the Kingdom” (Matthew 16: 13-20) and which continues to be guided and protected by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
That wisdom guided, and continues to guide, Pope Benedict 16th, for his decision to resign his office speaks volumes about his understanding of the virtues of humility and patience. Humility, in that he understands that owing to his age and physical condition, it is right to turn over the chair of Peter to another man; and patience, in that he knows (and lovingly trusts) that the Holy Spirit will patiently guide the Cardinals to select a new pope who will continue to lead the Church with love and fidelity to Christ and His teachings.
We wish Pope Benedict 16th well and pray for the continued blessings of the Holy Trinity to be with him. We thank him for his great gifts of teaching, scholarship, and leadership to the Church over the long history of his service to us as deacon, priest, bishop, cardinal, and pope.
We must continue to remember him in our prayers.
The Catholic League for Civil Rights
http://www.catholicleague.org/ just posted a wonderful summary of the Legacy of Pope Benedict 16th, I have reposted it below for your edification.

Pope’s Legacy is Secure

February 11, 2013

“Bill Donohue offers seven good reasons why the pope’s legacy is secure:

Religion for Pope Benedict XVI is as much a public issue as it is a private one.

In 2008, he warned American bishops against “the subtle influence of secularism,” holding that “any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted.”

The pope made it clear that religious freedom was not only a God-given right, it was “the path to peace.”

He knew religion could be abused, leading even to violence. His much misunderstood 2006 Regensburg University lecture was really about the uncoupling of religion from reason (reason not united to faith also leads to violence).

The pope reached out to dissidents on the right and the left, seeking to bring them to communion. Not all his efforts succeeded, but his attempts were noble.

No one did more to successfully address the problem of priestly sexual abuse than Joseph Ratzinger. Just weeks before he was chosen to be the new pope, he spoke bluntly about this issue: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him!”

Addressing those who still blame Jews for the death of Christ, the pope settled the issue with authority by pointing out that no one should be blamed since, as he argued, the crucifixion was necessary for God’s plan of universal redemption.

The pope’s many references to what he called “the dictatorship of relativism” were a constant reminder that one of the greatest threats to freedom today is the abandonment of the search for truth.

Pope Benedict XVI’s willingness to step aside comes as a surprise this Monday morning. What is not surprising is his humility. Indeed, it is one of his most defining characteristics, one that separates him from today’s ego-centric public figures.”

Copyright © 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Magnificat of Mary – A Beautiful Analysis By The Venerable Bede

In this morning’s selection from the Office of Readings in the Roman Breviary, the Venerable Bede, an English monk  presents a beautiful analysis of Mary’s joy-filled song – The Magnificat.

Bede was born in the year 673 and died in 735. He lived in Northumbria, primarily in the two monasteries of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. These monasteries had accumulated a wonderful collection of Greek, Latin, and early Church manuscripts. Bede spent his life studying, writing, and dictating the results of his research and prayer. He is known primarily for his most famous tome which is The Ecclesiastsical History of the English People. This work resulted in later generations giving him the title “The Father of English History.”

In 1899, Pope Leo 13th made Bede a Doctor of the Church. Bede was a skilled translator, linguist, and writer. His ability to compose insightful spiritual essays, and skill in making the writings of the Early Church Fathers accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons, significantly contributed to the growth of Roman Catholicism in England.

Let us take a moment today to dwell upon one of his perceptive and rich essays on the Blessed Mother. In the selection below, Bede provides us with a beautiful essay on Mary’s response to the knowledge that she will be the mother of the Savior. Her poetic song is known as The Magnificat, and it is said in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth (and possibly Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah) when they rejoice in the knowledge that they are both pregnant (The Visitation).

visitation

Mary’s song of joy, faith, and trust is here separated by Bede and some of its key phrases are analyzed by him for our prayerful consideration. Mary’s words appear in bold italics, Scriptural references are in plain italics, Bede’s are in regular print. The entire Magnificat can be found in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, verses 46 – 55.

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Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Bede’s comments, he has Mary thinking these thoughts: “The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it, and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. As I contemplate his greatness, which knows no limits, I joyfully surrender my whole life, my senses, my judgment, for my spirit rejoices in the eternal Godhead of that Jesus, that Savior, whom I have conceived in this world of time.”

The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

“Mary looks back to the beginning of her song, where she said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. Only that soul for whom the Lord in His love does great things can proclaim his greatness with fitting praise and encourage those who share her desire and purpose, saying: Join with me in proclaiming the greatness of the Lord; let us extol His name together.”

“Those who know the Lord, yet refuse to proclaim His greatness and sanctify His name to the limit of their power, will be called least in the kingdom of Heaven. His name is called holy because in the sublimity of his unique power He surpasses every creature and is far removed from all that He has made.”

He has come to the help of His servant Israel, for He has remembered His promise of mercy.

“In a beautiful phrase Mary calls Israel the servant of the Lord. The Lord came to his aid to save him. Israel is an obedient and humble servant, in the words of Hosea: Israel was a servant, and I loved him.”

“Those who refuse to be humble cannot be saved. They cannot say with the prophet: See, God comes to my aid; the Lord is the helper of my soul. But anyone who makes himself humble like a little child is greater in the kingdom of Heaven.”

The promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.

“This does not refer to the physical descendants of Abraham, but to his spiritual children. These are his descendants, sprung not from the flesh only, but who, whether circumcised or not, have followed him in faith. Circumcised as he was, Abraham believed, and this was credited to him as an act of righteousness.

The coming of the Savior was promised to Abraham and to his descendants forever. These are the children of promise, to whom it is said: If you belong to Christ, then you are descendants of Abraham, heirs in accordance with the promise.”

The Responsory Prayer (Luke 1: 48 – 50) follows this reading:

“From this day all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, holy is His name. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.”

Beautiful words and images to bring us into the eve of Christmas. May you all have a holy and joy filled Christmas day and good fortune in the New Year! You are in my prayers.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the paintings: The first sacred image is a contemporary sacred image written/painted in the iconographic style; I do not know its author. The second sacred image of Mary lost in ecstasy as she sang The Magnificat, was completed by James J. Tissot, a French painter (1836 – 1902). This painting currently hangs in the Brooklyn Museum. The medium is opaque watercolor over graphite on gray woven paper. It is approximately five by ten inches in size. Bede’s commentary is taken from The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume 1. Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1975, page 362.

 

December 21, 2012 – The Archangel Gabriel’s Greeting to Zechariah

A very clear narrative greets us in the Gospel by St. Luke. He tells us that both Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous before God: walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord – they were blameless; but they have no child. Elizabeth was barren and both were elderly. We read of Zechariah silently bringing his heavy heart before the Lord – even after all those years – it was still burdened with disappointment. The couple probably remembered Psalm 112 which says:

“Happy the man who fears the Lord, who takes delight in his commands. His sons will be powerful on earth; the children of the upright are blessed.”

Zechariah was a priest, and on that day – by lot – it was his turn to enter the chamber within the Temple called the Holy Place and burn incense on the special altar. The Holy Place was a small chamber that led to the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant.

For whatever reason, Zechariah that morning carried his disappointment with him into the Holy Place; and while he was there the archangel, Gabriel, appeared on the right side of the Altar of Incense. Gabriel tells Zechariah not to be afraid and that his prayer was heard before the throne of God. Gabriel continues with the joyous news that Elizabeth will bear a son, and that he will be called John – which in Hebrew means – “the Lord is gracious.” This child will grow and be great before the Lord, and even from his mother’s womb – he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

But, in a typically human way, Zechariah questions the archangel’s announcement. His query must have been different in tone. It must have had the typical masculine attitude of “Are you kidding me!” Zechariah’s tenor makes Gabriel, and possibly God, indignant – and Zechariah is struck speechless for his insolence.

In Scripture, few lines later, we see Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. She questions him, too, as “How can this be since I do not know man? But Gabriel does not strike her speechless. We have to be struck by this difference. What does it teach us?

It is clear that God knows our hearts. God knew what was on Zechariah’s heart when he was in the Holy Place. Zechariah does not trust the message or the messenger, and by inference – he does not trust God. God knows his heart; and disciplines this good man. Like Zechariah, we, too, may disbelieve God. In our sophistication or position in life we may say “Well that’s fine, but, the Scriptures don’t apply to our situation, or this specific teaching was acceptable years ago, but, too much time has passed and it doesn’t apply to my problems.

The Gospel says that Zechariah and his wife were good and righteous people. It was mentioned that he kept all the Commandments and ordinances. Yet, when his big moment comes – where is all that goodness and righteousness? It might still be there in his heart, but, there was also a pocket of doubt – a crevice of skepticism – that was significant enough for him, as a priest of the Almighty God, to be struck speechless in punishment for not trusting Gabriel’s message.

As sacred artists, as Christians, this Gospel asks us to stop, and check our souls in this last week of Advent. It asks us how patient, confident, and trusting have we been of the Lord’s message to our hearts, and have we allowed this to carry over into our actions? Have we become more interested in all the hype about the end of the world from a pagan culture, or, have we trusted in the Word of the Lord and His messengers?

Zechariah learned the hard way that when the Lord prepares us for His coming He desires us to be alive, awake, and alert to His call and to trust His message. So, our prayer in these last days of Advent should echo that of Zechariah, who in the months of speechless waiting, most likely in his mental prayer said,  “Lord, I believe; cleanse me of my disbelief. Lord, I trust, heal me of my distrust;” and it should also echo that of Mary – who in humility and expectation waited patiently for the graciousness of the Lord to take fruit in her womb.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Thanks to angels-angelology.com for stained glass window image

Our Lady of Guadalupe – An Icon of The Woman Who Will Crush The Serpent

Today’s feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of all the Americas, recalls the apparition of our Blessed Mother on the hill of Tepeyac in present day Mexico City. This approved apparition occurred from December 9th through the 12th 1531. Guadalupe is the Spanish translation of the Aztec phrase that Juan Diego heard Mary associate herself with – the name, interestingly, in Aztec means “she will crush the serpent of stone.”

In the same year as this Marian apparition, rebellion and protest against the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church was sweeping Germany, France, and England. While millions of people were leaving the faith in Europe, the  Blessed Mother, through the miraculous image that appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma, convinces millions of people to enter the Catholic faith in Central America.

As the European rebellion was tearing down millennia of Church theology and sacred tradition, Our Lady was building up the understanding of both the Spanish clergy in Mexico and the Native American population of the love of God and the assurance of her compassion and protection.

Our Lady spoke to Juan Diego in his native dialect. She identified herself and said:  “Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all things live. It is my ardent desire that a church be erected here so that in it I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land and to those others who love me, that they might call upon and confide in me. Go to the Bishop of Mexico to make known to him what I greatly desire. Go and put all your efforts into this.” (footnote 1)

You probably know the rest of the story. The Bishop is told of this event, disbelieves Juan Diego, and then the bishop asks for a sign. Juan Diego reports back to Mary and is told by her to cut the Castilian roses that are growing and put them in his poncho which is called a tilma. The tilma is opened in front of the Bishop and other witnesses, the roses fall out, and the miraculous image of Our Lady appears on the tilma.

But is this story true?

Here are some of the historical facts:

1) The extraordinary conversion of multi-millions of Native Americans, and the Aztecs in particular, who, as a blood thirsty civilization, were known to kill as many as 20,000 human beings in one day to appease the blood lust of their primary god.

2) The roses that Juan Diego cut were native of Damascus, Syria, and did grow in Spain, but were unknown in Mexico at that time.

3) The tilma, or poncho, that Juan Diego wore was made of the agave fibers traditionally used by the Native Americans. These fibers were a natural substance that should have deteriorated within 35 years, and yet, today, the 481st anniversary of the event – this tilma is still in excellent condition.

4) Through scientific analysis done over the last forty years, it has been determined that the pigments used on the tilma are not of natural or man-made material, and there is no glue or sizing on the tilma to fix the pigment in place. Plus the colorization or iridescence of the image on this “icon not made with human hands” would not have been able to be produced by a human artist in the 16th century. This iridescent effect would have been seen only in nature.

5) Our Lady is represented in the colors and dress of a pregnant Aztec princess. Modern astronomical research has shown that the stars on Our Lady’s image are in the configuration of the stars in the heavens on the nights of the apparition in 1531.

6) Most remarkably, a microscopic analysis of Our Lady’s eyes was completed by Peruvian engineer and optical scientist Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann (who trained at Cornell University and worked at IBM). He magnified the iris of the Virgin’s eyes 2,500 times and, through mathematical and optical calculations, was able to identify the witnesses of the Guadalupan miracle at the moment Juan Diego unfurled his tilma before the bishop and other witnesses [the bishop was Juan de Zumarraga, the Franciscan bishop of Mexico City.] (footnote 2)

But most importantly, these few miraculous facts about the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, do not stress the key issues of this apparition:

1) You see, Our Lady came to the Mexican people – as she comes to us this Advent season – as a pregnant young woman who is promoting life and her protection – not only for her unborn child – but for all of us.

2) Our Lady calls to us through this icon to stress that she loves us, has compassion for us, sees our tears, and desires to offer us her love and comfort.

3) As the Mother of the incarnate Son of God she also points to her Son, and desires a church to be built so He can be properly worshipped, the people receive His graces, and so she can be there to assist us in our prayers to God.

4) Mary has always reminded us that He is the One, True, All Powerful God who desires our love, respect, and obedience.

As the Roman Breviary says this morning: “Who is this that comes forth like the dawn, as beautiful as the moon, as resplendent as the sun? You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel; you are the fairest honor of our race. O Virgin Mary, how great your cause for joy; God found you worthy to bear Christ our Savior.”

And as the Book of Revelation tells us, God has found Mary worthy to crush the head of the Serpent. All praise, honor, and glory be to God! And may the Blessed Virgin’s love help transform us into the image of Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Footnotes and  sites to investigate for more information:

(1) From a report by Don Antonio Valeriano, a Native American author of the 16th century; as published in the Supplement of the New Feasts and Memorials for the General Roman Calendar – The Liturgy of the Hours.

(2) “Science Sees What Mary Saw From Juan Diego’s Tilma”   Zenit News Service, 2001.

Zenit News Agency. Science Stunned by Virgin of Guadalupe’s Eyes. 1/14/2001

http://www.miraclehunter.com/marian_apparitions/index.html

The Immaculate Conception of Mary – The Beauty of the New Eve

We are about to begin the second week of Advent and as you may know the word Advent has its root in the Latin word adventus which means “coming.” The liturgical term adventus is similar to the Greek word parousia which refers to the Second Coming of Christ at the final judgment of the world.

Through the millenia Church scholars have linked these two words together because they hope to instill within us the understanding that we are on a spiritual journey. In this journey we experience the waiting period – the longing – for the coming of Jesus, the actual birth of Jesus, and then, we again experience the waiting time for His return at the Second Coming.

As part of our preparation for the great solemnity of Christmas, the Catholic Church, in both the Western and Eastern Rites, remembers the significance of Mary’s immaculate purity as being a necessary part of this entire spiritual journey.  For in her humble “Yes” to the invitation to be the Mother of the Messiah, Mary becomes the New Eve – the mother of Jesus – and the Mother of the Church.

Our sacred Tradition tells us that Mary was the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne. They were devoted Jews who raised their child to be loyal and pure within the Jewish holy tradition. Mary was born within the royal line of King David and was betrothed, and later married under Jewish law, to Joseph, a respected Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.

Little is known of Mary’s day-to-day life other than the references to her in the Gospels. Those early references indicate that she was a loving, concerned, and devoted person. During her Son’s ministry she attended the wedding feast at Cana, was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, and was most likely with the Apostles at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

The most famous Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah are Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:1-4. In all three prophecies the Mother of the Messiah plays a prominent role.”Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” [Isaiah 7:10-14].  The name Immanuel in Hebrew means “God is with us.”

As the mother of Jesus, and the wife of Saint Joseph, Mary is the greatest saint. She is the model of faith, purity, and maternal devotion for all Christians. Mary is called the Blessed Virgin because our Sacred Scriptures tell us that she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, so Saint Joseph is the foster father, not the biological father, of Jesus.

To become the mother of the Savior, Mary was “enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” (Lumen Gentium). Mary freely gave herself to God with complete trust even in the face of possible confusion about what was happening to her, and she freely responded and consented to God’s Will for her life. Mary’s “Yes” to God’s request that she become the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus, enabled our Redemption to occur.

What is the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception?

The Church teaches that Mary was conceived without sin.  This is the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception which we celebrate on December 8th of every year. This Solemnity explains to us that Mary received from God a special grace which is known as Prevenient Grace. Prevenient Grace is a “grace that comes before.” This means that prior to Mary’s biological conception, God decided that in His plan for salvation history He needed a totally pure woman to be the New Eve – to be the New Ark – free from all stain of sin and free from any future sin.

This was possible through God’s gift of Prevenient Grace which was given at her conception. Mary burned with God’s grace, purity, and love – gifts that were freely given by God.  She, like the burning bush that Moses confronted, was enriched by these gifts and, like a warming fire, softly radiated the grace of God’s love to those around her.

As The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 491, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception means that “Mary was redeemed from the moment of her conception.”  Pope Pius 9th  announced this Dogma when he said: “Mary was preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” This was accomplished through the power of God. He willed and acted so that Mary should be free from the stain of sin. Mary, as the angel Gabriel described is “full of grace”… “Hail Full of Grace / Rejoice Highly Favored One.”

The Fathers of the Eastern Catholic Church also agree with this truth and verify it when they address the Mother of God as “the All-Holy” (Panagia) and celebrate her as free from any stain of sin.

Theotokos-the-burning-bush-Inner-Liturgy-of-the-Heart

An interesting article entitled Mary in Scripture, on the EWTN website, explains “The angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary is of great consequence for our understanding of Mary and Marian doctrine. The greeting has been variously translated as “Rejoice highly favored” and “Hail full of grace.”

The object of the varied translations is the Greek word kecharitomene which refers to one who has been transformed by God’s grace. The word is used only one other time in the New Testament and that is in the Epistle to the Ephesians where Paul is addressing those who, by becoming Christians, are transformed by grace and receive the remission of sins. It is clearly significant that Mary is considered to already have been transformed by grace before the birth of Christ.” ( Confer the article “Mary in Scripture” at this site: http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/MARYINSC.htm

So, we see that God intervened and did not allow the stain of Original Sin to be passed to Mary. She – as the pure vessel – would receive the redemptive grace of God before the actual Redemption took place. This is logical and filled with common sense. Why would God the Father have His Incarnate Son be conceived in a woman who was tainted by the stain of Original Sin? As the Scriptures state – we do not put new wine into old wineskins. To make a commonplace analogy: would any self respecting surgeon, cook, artist, or musician use soiled instruments as they were healing, creating, or performing a masterpiece in their art?

The Christian scholar Origen (AD 185 – 254) made a very interesting observation, he said,  ”Because the angel greeted Mary with new expressions, which I [Origen] have never encountered elsewhere in the Scriptures, it is necessary to comment on this. I do not, in fact, recall having read in any other place in the Sacred Scriptures these words: “Rejoice highly favored one, O Full of Grace. “ Neither of these expressions is ever addressed to a man: such a special greeting was reserved only for Mary.” (quote taken from the article referenced above – “Mary in Scripture.”

In the year AD 431, at the Council of Ephesus in present day Turkey (attended by over 200 bishops from throughout Christendom), Mary was named Theotokos (the God Bearer) and a model of Christian living. “Mary is truly “Mother of God” since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, who is God Himself.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, #509).

She is called the New Eve because just as the original Eve brought sin and death into the world, Mary, as the bearer of spiritual life, brought Jesus (the New Adam) into the world. This provided the opportunity for grace, Redemption from Sin, and salvation to impact and transform mankind for all eternity.

Since 1964, Mary has been honored as the Mother of the Church She is called The Mother of the Church because through her free choice she cooperated with God’s plan to be the Mother of God – mother of our Redeemer. As a result of His life, ministry death, and resurrection He was able to transform us into a new people and build a new “arc of salvation” (the Church) for us.

By the 700’s the Catholic Church celebrated four major Marian solemnities: the Annunciation (Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be the Mother of the Savior), the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, and the Birthday of Mary. The Immaculate Conception became popular by the tenth century. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Louis de Montfort, Pope John Paul II and many other saints of the Church have written extensively on Mary and her role in the Church and in the lives of individuals. The Church teaches that Mary was assumed into heaven with body and soul united. 

Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and all of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches DO NOT worship Mary. WORSHIP IS RESERVED FOR GOD ALONE. The Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church pay respect and reverence to Mary but never worship her.

ourlady2

The meaning of Our Blessed Mother Mary for us today is that, especially at this time in history, we must remember that she spiritually pleads for mercy on behalf of us before the throne of God. She does this in the same way that a mother would intercede with the father on behalf of her children. She loves us with the love of a true mother – for she sees not only our faults but our inherent goodness, too. Please God that we respond to the graces she has to offer us. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Some sources on the concept of Prevenient Grace: “Every time we begin to pray to Jesus it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the way of prayer by his prevenient grace” (#2670 Catechism of the Catholic Church). “That grace is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed; but grace, which is not due, precedes, that they may be done [St. Prosper].” Can. 18. #191 Council of Orange II A.D. 529 (Second Council of Orange).  St. Augustine also wrote extensively on the concept of grace; and my Associate Pastor Rev. Joseph R. Upton, also mentioned it in his beautiful sermon for this solemnity’s vigil Mass on December 7, 2012 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island.  Special thanks to the blog: http://classicalchristianity.com/category/holyfathers/theotokos-mary/ for the Orthodox sacred icon of Mary and the Child Jesus surrounded by the Burning Bush.

Our Blessed Mother’s Poverty of Spirit

Our Gospel today (Luke 21: 1-4) asks us to reflect on how we express our love for God.

At first glance, the poor woman in the Gospel looks reckless. Yet, love, regardless of whether it is for God or another person, doesn’t calculate all the percentages.

Many times, it just blissfully provides whatever the beloved needs, even to the point of true sacrifice on the part of the lover for the beloved. The lesson here is simple: love has greater value than material possessions.

This  Gospel reminded me of Our Blessed Mother Mary’s actions in a few Gospel accounts which speak about her presence, love, and the willingness to intercede with her Son; these actions reveal the condition and generosity of her heart.

So our Gospel is not just about what we contribute to the collection basket. It is all about the condition of our hearts – the state of our generosity to the Lord.

You see this Gospel challenges us to ask ourselves this question: “When we give to others, whether it is money, time, talent, or just a sympathetic ear, do we do it out of love or out of a sense of obligation?”

Mary and the poor woman’s witness is that our generosity should always be linked to God’s spirit of charity. These women show us that true selfless generosity must always come from the heart and that we must be willing to give of ourselves for the love of God.

This may not mean cleaning out our bank accounts and giving it all away, a few like St Francis of Assisi, were called to do that; but the vast majority of us are called to clean out our hearts of all those things that interfere with our witness to God’s spirit of love and generosity in our own lives.

As we conclude this liturgical year, and look forward to beginning a new one next weekend, let us pray to Mary to intercede with her Son so that we, too, may share in her poverty of spirit and love of God’s charity.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Our Lady of Sorrows – Seven Sorrows – Seven Graces

Today is the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The Roman Breviary tells us that in a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux he explains that “The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of our Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted. He went on to say to Mary: And your own heart will be pierced by a sword.”

Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. That feast asks us to remember that it was through the Cross, through the violent execution of our Lord, that our redemption took place. The triumph of the Father’s love for His creation, and the Son’s sacrifice, was able to reorder a sin filled world.

As St. Andrew of Crete reminds us “the legal bond of our sin was cancelled and through His death we obtained our freedom and death was trodden underfoot.” Today, the Church in its wisdom again reminds us of the scene of Christ’s victory – and the people that witnessed it.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux eloquently reminds us that along with the death of Christ you have Golgotha being the scene of the martyrdom of Mary. He stresses the phrase, the martyrdom of Mary, because Jesus, as Mary’s child, held a unique and special place in her heart. This is true of the relationship of every mother to their child or children.

All mothers will tell you that every one of their children is special to them; all the more so with Mary, who knew and understood the role that her child was to play in our lives. So when the lance tore through His chest and entered His heart, the prophecy of Simeon, uttered so many years earlier flooded into her mind: “He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted, and your own heart will be pierced by a sword.”

Mary witnessed the execution, she saw the spear tear through her Son’s lifeless body and the violence of that act ripped through her as well. Her body and soul filled with pain and, at that moment, she suffered the martyrdom of every mother who witnesses the death of an innocent child.

At Golgotha, watching the agonizing death of her Son, our blessed Mother, in obedience to the Father’s will for her life, stood by the Cross not only to witness the death of her obedient Son, but to hear her Son say that she was to now be the mother, not only of John, but all of us who believe in Him as Lord and Savior.

Through the sufferings of Mary, the mother of God, we have been made sharers in Christ’s passion. Through Mary’s original obedience to the Father’s will and invitation, we have be given the supreme gift of being able to participate in His Sacramental life, which enables us to share in His rising to everlasting life.

The Church has identified “Seven Sorrows” of Mary: 1) The prophecy of Simeon, 2) The flight into Egypt, 3) The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple, 4) The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross, 5) The Crucifixion, 6) The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross, 7) The burial of Jesus.

According to the 14th century visions of St. Bridget of Sweden, mystic and patroness of Europe, Our Blessed Mother Mary grants Seven Graces to all souls who honor her on a daily basis by saying seven Hail Mary’s and thinking about the above Seven Sorrows. The Seven Graces are: 1) Mary will grant peace to their families; 2) They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries; 3) They will be comforted in their sickness and assisted in their work; 4) They will be given additional graces as long as what the soul asks for does not violate the will of Jesus or the eventual sanctification of their own soul;  5) Mary will defend the soul in their own particular spiritual battle with the demons, and, will provide her protection to them; 6) The soul will be helped at the time of their death and will experience seeing the face of the Blessed Mother; 7) Mary told St. Bridget that she obtained these graces from Jesus so those souls who are in the state of grace and spread this devotion among their families and friends will be attain Heaven.

St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy (2: 10-12) directs us to the Scriptural truth of these ideas when he says, “I bear with all this for the sake of those whom God has chosen, in order that they may obtain the salvation to be found in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. You can depend on this: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we hold out to the end we shall also reign with him.” These words, while not said by Our Blessed Mother, were in reality, lived by her.

our-lady-of-sorrows

Let us pray that through Our Lady of Sorrows, her love and grace shall bring the hearts of all of us to her Son, so that His Heart may reign in the hearts of all mankind.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the paintings: The first painting is an archetypal Gothic Lady of Sorrows from a triptych by the Master of the Stauffenberg Altarpiece, Alsace, c. 1455. The  second image is of a 15th century sculpture for a cathedral door showing the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady (by Adriaen Isenbrandt, circa 1490 – 1511). The third image, The Madonna in Sorrow, is by the 17th century Italian artist Giovanni Salvi (also known as Sassoferrato). The fourth painting is by William- Adolphe Bougereau, a French realist painter (1825 – 1905).

 

The Most Holy Name of Mary

This is my third post in as many days on Our Blessed Mother Mary. September is an appropriate time to remember the significance of Mary in the life of the Church and, more importantly, in our own lives. For as the Mother of God she is, necessarily, the mother of our own spiritual life. She nurtures us to understand that her Son is always there for us. He does not impose Himself on us and neither does Mary. They desire us to freely choose kinship with them.

Today, September 12th is the memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary. The name Mary is one of the Greek forms (others being Maria and Mariam) of the Hebrew Miriam (Miryam; and in Aramaic, Maryam). Webster’s Dictionary defines its meaning as “rebellion,” another dictionary refers to the name as meaning  “strong.”

It is interesting to note that Mary’s name contains within it the seed of understanding who and what she means to the Church. God the Father, from all eternity, fashioned Mary in His mind to be His future daughter. The Holy Spirit, at  her immaculate conception, shaped her heart, mind, soul, and body. The incarnate Son of God, Jesus, was in turn shaped by her own womb, and at the end of those nine months, gloriously born to become the Redeemer of Man.

Our Catholic Catechism speaks of this when it says, “Mary, the all-holy ever-Virgin Mother of God, is the masterwork of the mission of the Son and the Spirit in the fullness of time. For the first time in the plan of salvation and because his Spirit had prepared her, the Father found the dwelling place where his Son and his Spirit could dwell among men. In this sense the Church’s Tradition has often read the most beautiful texts on wisdom in relation to Mary (confer Proverbs 8: 1-9: 6; Sirach 24). Mary is acclaimed and represented in the liturgy as the Seat of Wisdom. In her the “wonders of God” that the Spirit was to fulfill in Christ and the Church began to be manifested.” (confer paragraphs 721 – 722ff in the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Are these ideas prefigured in her name?

If we are to use the terms “rebellion” and “strong” as the meaning for the name Mary then we may ask “Rebellion against what? Strong for what ends?”

The Church’s Tradition, from the earliest centuries, teaches that Mary was to was to be the faith-filled instrument that God would use to enable the Son of God to enter into the world of men, as man and God. She was the instrument of faith, humility and obedience that would model the skills that we personally need in order to rebel against the forces of this world, the forces of Satan, himself. Her name, along with the victory won for us by her Son, is the rallying cry for all who desire to see the forces of Satan destroyed. Her name – Mary – sustains us in our own fight, our own rebellion, against the serpent and his wily attempts to seduce us, too.

Satan’s victory at the Tree in the Garden was short-lived. St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon in the second century, speaks of this when he says, “The Lord came visibly to his own domain and was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. By his obedience upon a tree he reversed the disobedience shown because of another tree. The seduction to which the betrothed virgin Eve had miserably fallen victim was remedied by the truth happily announced by the angel to Mary, another betrothed virgin. As Eve, seduced by a [fallen] angel, turned away from God by disobedience to his word, so Mary, receiving the good news from an angel, bore God in her womb in obedience to his word; and as Eve had been led to disobey God, so Mary obeyed him. Thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.” (excerpted from Mary’s Yes, edited by John Rotelle, O.S.A. Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, MI).

The most holy name of Mary also provides us with spiritual strength. As the angel Gabriel announced, and as our Catechism explains, she is full of grace. These graces, however, do not lie dormant within her. The Catechism explains: “The Holy Spirit prepared Mary by His grace. It is through Mary, that the Holy Spirit prepares men and women into communion with Christ.”

The strength of her humility, faith, obedience, and prayer act as the four cornerstones to assist us in modeling our life on hers. This appeals to humble people; and indeed, the first to witness the birth of the Redeemer were St. Joseph and the shepherds.

Mary is an example of  faith, hope, holiness, obedience, love, and prayer. As “the Daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son, and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit” she assists us in uniting ourselves to her Son. Her quiet strength, like many human mothers down through the centuries, enables her to meet our needs in both body and soul. We are her spiritual children. Let us run to her with all our cares, with all our spiritual and bodily illnesses, with our anxiety, fears, and despair. She is here to not only comfort us, but to strengthen us, through a multitude of graces, so that we may be powerful witnesses of faith in Christ in the spiritual war that is waging all around us.  May the Holy Name of Mary always give us strength to realize that Jesus Christ is our one true Savior and the fount of all mercy.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

(“Daughter of the Father …etc” passage is taken from a meditation by Father Emanuel d’Alzon, 19th century founder of the Augustinians of the Assumption, excerpted from his book Mary Our Mother, Our Model, Our Queen, translated by M. Angeline Bouchard from the original French, Trente Jours avec Marie. which received the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur of the Church). Notes on the sacred images: The first painting is by the 17th century Italian artist Giovanni Salvi (also known as Sassoferrato). The title of the painting is The Virgin at Prayer. It is in the National Gallery of Art in London. The second image is a close-up of the Blessed Mother’s face that was sculpted by Michelangelo in 1499 for his extraordinary sculpture known as the Pieta. Michelangelo was 24 years old at the time he sculpted this masterpiece! It is located in the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

The Solemnity of the Annunciation – The Confident Sacrifice Of A Pure Heart

Many years ago, Blessed John Paul 2 spoke to the seminarians of Rome on this, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. He began his homily with the phrase: “Fear not!”  Echoing the archangel’s comments to our Blessed Mother he was trying to calm the natural anxiety of those young men as they  prepared for their Gospel ministry in the world. The Pope counseled them that “We must all accept the call. We must listen [to the Holy Spirit],  and use the grace that we have received from God. We must shore up our strength, and say, “Yes” in confidence and certainty to the call that we hear from the whispers of the Holy Spirit.”

Upon hearing the message of the archangel Gabriel, the ultimate decision by Mary that “Let it be done to me according to your word” conclusively and forever changed cosmic and spiritual history. For at the moment she said “Yes” to Gabriel, our salvation and redemption, through the Cross, began.

Let us not forget, however, that Mary’s “Yes” had a tremendous affect on her, too.  It required a great cost from her personally because it resulted in the Crucifixion – it resulted in the sacrifice of her own son Jesus – and – the sacrifice of her own heart.

Blessed John Paul 2 speaks of this when he says:  “Mary in a particular way – unlike any other – experienced mercy, and at the same time, made her participation in the revelation of the Divine Mercy possible with the sacrifice of her own heart.  Such a sacrifice is closely bound up with the Cross of Her Son, at which she was to stand at Calvary… No one has experienced the mystery of the Cross as did the Mother of the Crucified…. Mary is therefore the person who knows the Divine Mercy most deeply. She knows the price; she knows how high it is.”

He goes on to say, “Maybe there is another point: for all people are born at Mary’s Yes.” This must be understood: such a Yes in imitation of Mary creates joy, a new life, a breath, a blessing;” it creates opportunities for us to  sacrifice our own hearts in imitation of her and the Holy Family.

So as we enter the 5th week of Lent let us celebrate this Solemnity by trying our best to live like our Blessed Mother – a person with complete confidence in the Lord. Let us say Yes to God in imitation of Mary and allow the Lord to work wonders in our own lives, as well.

Images in order of appearance: A 13th Century Byzantine icon of the Annunciation from St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai; Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Annunciation (1898); John William Waterhouse’s Annunciation (1914); and Bartolome E. Murillo’s Annunciation completed between 1660 -1665, and please don’t forget to do some research and take a closer look at one of Fra Angelico’s versions of the Annunciation! Please also notice that in Waterhouse’s and Murillo’s renditions both artists have included the tradition that Mary was in the process of sewing the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the outer room which housed the Altar of Incense in the Temple in Jerusalem; other artists, such as El Greco, do that too.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

A Beautiful Pregnant Young Woman And Her Message To A Weary World

Today’s feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of all the Americas, recalls the apparition of our Blessed Mother on the hill of Tepeyac in present day Mexico City from December 9th through the 12th in the year 1531. Guadalupe is the Spanish translation of the Aztec phrase that Juan Diego heard Mary associate herself with – the name, interestingly, in Aztec means “she will crush the serpent of stone.”

In the same year – 1531 – thousands of miles away in what today we call Germany – Martin Luther was pro- claiming his doctrine of protest and rebellion from the Catholic faith. As Martin Luther was convincing millions of Catholics to leave the faith, our Blessed Mother, through the miraculous image that appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma, convinces millions of Native Americans to convert to the faith.

As the Protestant rebellion was tearing down millennia of Church theology and sacred tradition, Our Lady was building up the understanding of both the Spanish clergy in Mexico and the Native American population, of the love of God and the assurance of her protection.

Our Lady spoke to Juan Diego in his native dialect. She identified herself and said:  “Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all things live. It is my ardent desire that a church be erected here so that in it I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land and to those others who love me, that they might call upon and confide in me. Go to the Bishop of Mexico to make known to him what I greatly desire. Go and put all your efforts into this.”(1)

 

Of course you probably know the rest of the story. The Bishop is told, disbelieves Juan Diego, the bishop asks for a sign, Juan Diego reports back to Mary and is told by her to cut the Castilian roses that are growing and put them in his poncho which is called a tilma. The tilma is opened in front of the Bishop and other witnesses, the roses fall out, and the miraculous image of Our Lady appears on the tilma. But is this story true? What are the facts that surround it?

Our Lady of Guadalupe is honored as a feast throughout the Americas on this day because of the miraculous events associated with this particular three-day apparition, a very few being:

1) The extraordinary conversion of multi-millions of Native Americans, and the Aztecs in particular, who, as a blood thirsty civilization, were known to kill as many as 20,000 human beings in one day to appease the blood lust of their primary god.

2) The roses that Juan Diego cut were native of Damascus, Syria, and did grow in Spain, but were unknown in Mexico at that time.

3) The tilma, or poncho, that Juan Diego wore was made of the agave fibers traditionally used by the Native Americans. These fibers were a natural substance that should have deteriorated within 35 years, and yet, today, the 480th anniversary of the event – this tilma is still in excellent condition.

4) Through scientific analysis done over the last forty years, it has been determined that the pigments used on the tilma are not of natural or man-made material, and there is no glue or sizing on the tilma to fix the pigment in place. Plus the colorization or iridescence of the image on this “icon not made with human hands” would not have been able to be produced by a human artist in the 16th century. This iridescent effect would have been seen only in nature.

5) Our Lady is represented in the colors and dress of a pregnant Aztec princess. Modern astronomical research has shown that the stars on Our Lady’s image are in the configuration of the stars in the heavens on the nights of the apparition in 1531. Most remarkably, a microscopic analysis of Our Lady’s eyes was completed by Peruvian engineer and optical scientist Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann (who trained at Cornell University and worked at IBM). He magnified the iris of the Virgin’s eyes 2,500 times and, through mathematical and optical calculations, was able to identify the witnesses of the Guadalupan miracle at the moment Juan Diego unfurled his tilma before the bishop and other witnesses [the bishop was Juan de Zumarraga, the Franciscan bishop of Mexico City.] (2)

But most importantly, these few miraculous facts about the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, do not stress the key issues of this apparition.

You see, Our Lady came to the Mexican people – as she comes to us this Advent season – as a pregnant young woman who is promoting life and her protection – not only for her unborn child – but for all of us.

Our Lady calls to us through this icon to stress that she loves us, has compassion for us, sees our tears, and desires to offer us her love and comfort. As the Mother of the incarnate Son of God she also points to her Son, and desires a church to be built so He can be properly worshipped and so she can be there to assist us in our prayers to God.

Mary has always reminded us that He is the One, True, All Powerful God who desires our love and respect. She also stresses that she is always here to provide her protection.

I commend to you to do some research this week on this magnificent Church approved apparition which indicates the Lord’s and Our Lady’s love for us. How blessed we are to have the spiritual motherhood of Mary, and the Fatherhood of the One True God.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Footnotes and  sites to investigate for more information:

(1) From a report by Don Antonio Valeriano, a Native American author of the 16th century; as published in the Supplement of the New Feasts and Memorials for the General Roman Calendar – The Liturgy of the Hours.

(2)Science Sees What Mary Saw From Juan Diego’s Tilma”   Zenit News Service, 2001.

Zenit News Agency. Science Stunned by Virgin of Guadalupe’s Eyes. 1/14/2001

http://www.miraclehunter.com/marian_apparitions/index.html

The Immaculate Conception – A Time To Reflect On The Meaning of Mary

1) Mary’s Personal History

Tradition tells us that Mary was the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne. They were devoted Jews who raised their child to be loyal and pure within the Jewish holy tradition. Mary was born within the royal line of King David and was betrothed and later married Joseph, a respected Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. Little is known of Mary’s day-to-day life other than the references to her in the Gospels. Those early references indicate that she was a loving, concerned, and devoted person. During her Son’s ministry she attended the wedding feast at Cana, was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, and was most likely with the Apostles at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

 2) Mary Prefigured in the Hebrew Scriptures

“The most famous Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah are Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:1-4. In all three prophecies the Mother of the Messiah plays a prominent role. “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” [Isaiah 7:10-14].  The name Immanuel in Hebrew means “God is with us.”

 3) Mary as Mother and Saint

As the mother of Jesus, and the wife of Saint Joseph, Mary is the greatest saint. She is the model of faith, purity, and maternal devotion for all Christians. Mary is called the Blessed Virgin because she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (this is part of the Mystery of the Incarnation).  Saint Joseph is the foster father, not the biological father, of Jesus.

To become the mother of the Savior, Mary was “enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” (Lumen Gentium). Mary freely gave herself to God (confer Chapter 1 in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew), with complete trust even in the face of possible confusion about what was happening to her, and she freely responded and consented to God’s Will for her life.  Mary’s “Yes” to God’s request that she become the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus, enabled our Redemption to occur.

What is the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception? The Church teaches that Mary was conceived without sin.  This is the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception which we celebrate today.

As The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 491, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception means that “Mary was redeemed from the moment of her conception.”  Pope Pius 9th announced this Dogma when he said: “Mary was preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” This was accomplished through the power of God. He willed and acted so that Mary should be free from the stain of sin. Mary, as the angel Gabriel described is “full of grace”… “Hail Full of Grace / Rejoice Highly Favored One.” The Fathers of the Eastern Catholic Church also agree with this truth and verify it when they address the Mother of God as “the All-Holy” (Panagia) and celebrate her as free from any stain of sin.

An interesting article entitled Mary in Scripture explains “The angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary is of great consequence for our understanding of Mary and Marian doctrine. The greeting has been variously translated as “Rejoice highly favored” and “Hail full of grace.” The object of the varied translations is the Greek word kecharitomene which refers to one who has been transformed by God’s grace. The word is used only one other time in the New Testament and that is in the Epistle to the Ephesians where Paul is addressing those who, by becoming Christians, are transformed by grace and receive the remission of sins. It is clearly significant that Mary is considered to already have been transformed by grace before the birth of Christ.” ( Confer the article “Mary in Scripture” at this site: http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/MARYINSC.htm

So, we see that God intervened and did not allow the stain of Original Sin to be passed to Mary. She – as the pure vessel – would receive the redemptive grace of God before the actual Redemption took place. This is logical and filled with common sense. Why would God the Father have His Incarnate Son be conceived in a woman who was tainted by the stain of Original Sin? As the Scriptures state – we do not put new wine into old wineskins. To make a commonplace analogy: would any self respecting surgeon, cook, artist, or musician use soiled instruments as they were healing, creating, or performing a masterpiece in their art?

The scholar Origen (AD 185 -254) made a very interesting observation, he said,  “Because the angel greeted Mary with new expressions, which I have never encountered elsewhere in the Scriptures, it is necessary to comment on this. I do not, in fact, recall having read in any other place in the Sacred Scriptures these words: “Rejoice highly favored one, O Full of Grace. ” Neither of these expressions is ever addressed to a man: such a special greeting was reserved only for Mary.” (This quote is also taken from the article referenced above – “Mary in Scripture.”)

 4) Some of the Titles of Mary

In the year AD 431, at the Council of Ephesus (attended by over 200 bishops from throughout Christendom), Mary was named Theotokos (the God Bearer) and a model of Christian living. “Mary is truly “Mother of God” since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, who is God Himself.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, #509).

She is called the New Eve because just as the original Eve brought sin and death into the world, Mary, as the bearer of spiritual life, brought Jesus (the New Adam) into the world. This provided the opportunity for grace, redemption, and salvation to impact and transform mankind for all eternity.

Since 1964, Mary has been honored as the Mother of the Church.  She is called The Mother of the Church because through her free choice she cooperated with God’s plan to build a new “arc of salvation” (the Church) for His people.

By the eighth century (700’s) the Catholic Church celebrated the Annunciation (Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be the Mother of the Savior), the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, the Assumption of Mary, and the Birthday of Mary. The Immaculate Conception became popular by the tenth century (900’s). Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Louis de Montfort, Pope John Paul II and many other saints of the Church have written extensively on Mary and her role in the Church and in the lives of individuals. The Church teaches that Mary was assumed into heaven with body and soul united.  This is the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary.

5) Mary as Intercessor

Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and any of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches DO NOT worship Mary. WORSHIP IS RESERVED FOR GOD ALONE. These Churches pay respect and reverence to Mary but never worship her.

The meaning of Our Blessed Mother Mary for us today is that, especially at this time in history, we must remember that she spiritually intercedes (pleads for mercy on behalf of us – the Church) before the throne of God. She does this in the same way that a mother would intercede with the father on behalf of her children. She loves us with the love of a true mother – for she sees not only our faults but our inherent goodness, too. Please God that we respond to the graces she has to offer us. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

This painting is by Sano di Pietro an early Renaissance painter. It is entitled Our Lady of Mercy and was painted in the 1440’s. Sano di Pietro was from Siena.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

A Custodian of Beauty – The Talent of Artist Jamie Medeiros

After an article explaining the mission of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts appeared last June in our Diocesan newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic, I received a call from a lovely young woman by the name of Jamie Medeiros. She explained that she was from Massachusetts and that she, too, had been touched by the Holy Spirit to offer people the opportunity to blend the creation of beauty with personal prayer. She described the process through which she currently leads people to express themselves in art while they are praying – actually to make prayer part of their artisitc process. She told me that she calls their parish meetings Pray and Create, and that they successfully had a number of parishioners involved who were doing exactly that – joining prayer with artistic expression.

As she was explaining what she was doing in her Pray and Create sessions I couldn’t help but stand in awe of the power of the Holy Spirit to be touching people with the same impulse throughout the United States. This same impulse – the same desire – to combine prayer with art; from the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts in Rhode Island to the Catholic Artists Society in New York City, to Pray and Create in Massachusetts, and the Way of Beauty at Thomas More College in New Hampshire, to the Foundation for the Sacred Arts in Washington, D.C. – all attempting to examine and put into practice the words of Beato John Paul 2 and Pope Benedict 16th to become “custodians of sacred beauty.”

By becoming involved in the sacred movement to be a custodian of beauty we refashion culture and ourselves. We accomplish that end by evangelizing the truth, goodness and beauty of God through the study and creation of sacred art.

We continued to talk and I invited Jamie to become a member of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, and she graciously accepted. Jamie has a wealth of experience in the arts, having received a Master of Fine Arts in painting from the American University in Italy, and an undergraduate degree from the Catholic University of America. She currently is a self employed artist and lives in Massachusetts. A self portrait appears here:

Jamie’s talent can be appreciated in the above portrait as well as in a sampling of her sketches (seen below) – which she showed at our Autumn Meeting. To see more of Jamie’s paintings and sketches please go to her web site iliveinhope.com. She has a potpourri of different photographs, sketches, paintings, and whimsical studies. I especially like the work she has done of her dog “Daisy” and – a Rhode Island icon: Mr. Potato Head! Actually, I am sure that as soon as  Hasbro Industries (headquartered in Rhode Island and the creator of Mr. Potato Head), or Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence sees them they will snatch up those beauties!

The sketches below were done during her Pray and Create sessions at her parish church. Photos taken and used with the permission of Jamie Medeiros. Her painting and sketches are Copyright © 2011 Jamie Medeiros All Rights Reserved.

Very powerful, indeed! Thank you Jamie for the time, talent, and treasure that you are willing to share with others who accompany you on our beautiful spiritual journey back to the Lord.

Photos taken and used with the permission of Jamie Medeiros. Her painting and sketches are Copyright © 2011 Jamie Medeiros All Rights Reserved.

 Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. All Rights Reserved.

The Triumph of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows by Jed Gibbons

Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation – or Triumph – of the Holy Cross.

The early Catholic Church was intensely persecuted during the first 280 years of its life – so the symbol of the Cross – the symbol of public humiliation and excruciating death – was rarely used in our Christian iconography. But this doesn’t mean that the early Christians were reluctant to express their devotion to the Cross. Writing in the year 204, the Christian theologian Tertullian said: “At every going in and out, when we put on our clothes, when we sit at table, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon our forehead the sign [of the Cross].”

In the year 313, the Emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed toleration for the Christian faith within the Roman Empire. Constantine’s mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and with the support of the local bishop – excavated the area known as the site of Golgotha. Tradition states that portions of the true Cross, with a partial nameplate still attached was found, resulting in Constantine ordering that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher be built over the site. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the Cross placed inside it. So the feast that we celebrate today marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the year 335. That Church was unfortunately destroyed by the Muslims in the year 1009, only to be rebuilt centuries later, with the new occupants – all Christians – vying for control of the site! Unfortunately even among our brother Christian Churches there have been numerous clashes and conflicts over the control of this holy site. It is as if all of us – as guardians of the Church’s holiest site – had not internalized the meaning of the true Cross – the meaning of what happened on that site 2000 years ago – the meaning of the Father’s supreme sacrifice of His Son for the sake of His creation. God’s love was raised up on Golgotha that day and Satan’s venom was forever neutralized, but the sting of Satan’s original bite in the Garden of Eden still remains.

The truth of our Scripture readings tell us that Moses lifted up the bronze serpent, a sign of sin, and the people were healed. Jesus makes an analogy of the serpent with the healing power of the Cross – since it is a sign of our sin and our redemption. When the Father, through the Holy Spirit, lifted up Jesus in the resurrection, the Holy Cross was no longer viewed as a sign of evil and sin – rather it became a sign of Christ’s victory and our salvation.

Our Savior, through the instrument of the Holy Cross, shows us the level of His love for His  creation. The Father shows His love for us by giving us the best He has  – His Son – and His Son shows His obedience and trust in the Father – through His willingness to take upon Himself all sin and become a perfect offering back to the Father on our behalf. The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts chaplain, Fr. Joseph Upton, gave a beautiful homily today at morning Mass in which he emphasized that every day, we too raise up Jesus on the Cross. In every Mass, we have re-presented the sacrifice of Jesus for us. We commemorate His act and we thank Him for it in His gift of Himself to us in the Eucharist. We unite ourselves to the Triumph of the Cross through the Mass.

As sacred artists, on a daily basis, we must attempt to imitate this profound love of God in our creation of artistic works, and in our families and community. Our love must be strengthened by the truth of our faith – and by the triumph of the Cross; when we do this we will understand that the crosses that we carry, and the sufferings that we endure, unite us to the Lord, and help us transform our lives into His. Our Blessed Mother is our model for this transformation.

Tomorrow, September 15th, is the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Invitatory prayer that begins the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours says, “Let us adore Christ, the Savior of the world, who called his mother to share in his passion.” Those words reminded me of a beautiful illuminated miniature by Jed Gibbons, a very fine artist from Chicago. I met Jed when he was teaching at the St. Michael’s Institute for the Sacred Arts at Enders Island in Mystic, CT. Jed has produced some truly inspirational work (his Stations of the Cross in the chapel on Enders Island are exquisite) and this piece that you see below captures not only the theme of the Triumph of the Cross but the truth of the Church’s teaching that Mary shared in the passion of her  Son. This piece is entitled   Maria, Mater Misericordiae (Mary, Mother of Mercy); it was completed in 2006, and was done in historic earth pigments and 23 karat gold. It measures 6.75 by 9.25 inches. I thank the Foundation for the Sacred Arts website for the image.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Image copyrighted by Jed Gibbons All Rights Reserved

 

The Eternal Now and the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is the memorial of the Coronation of our Blessed Mother. Sacred icons and images have expressed the Queenship and Coronation of the Holy Theotokos – the Mother of God – for at least 1500 years. The icon The Virgin Salus Populi Romani, a 5th century icon, displayed in the Church of Saint Mary Major in Rome, and seen below, shows the Blessed Mother dressed in typical first century Middle Eastern garb as she holds her Son who gives a blessing. This icon reputed to

be a copy of one that was painted by St. Luke the evangelist who tradition states knew the Blessed Mother and spoke and listened to her .

A 6th century icon of the Blessed Mother and Child displays a coronation theme – in which the Blessed Mother and her Son are in Heaven. Mary sits on her throne with Her Son on her lap, surrounded by St. Theodore on the left and St. George on the right, while two angels look up as the hand of the Father gives a blessing. This icon is found in the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula.

Our iconic images painted (“written”) by orthodox iconographers of both the Latin, Greek, Russian, Coptic, and other Rites agree with the ideas found within our Holy Scriptures. For example, today’s Gospel passage tells us “… the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” This Scripture explains that the Lord willingly takes the initiative to come forth – with hands extended – to meet us and share the reign of His kingdom.

In sacred art we visualize this not only in the extension of Christ’s hands on the cross – but also, in the extension of the infant Jesus’ hands, to give us a blessing, as He sits in His mother’s lap – or is caressed in her arms – an image that is found not only in the above icons but in numerous statues found in Latin Rite churches throughout the world.

Our first reading – from Isaiah – also speaks of Christ in regal terms – as Emmanuel (God is with us) – the “Prince of Peace.” And we can even get apocalyptic and speak of the Books of Daniel and Revelation which recall the truth that the world will be transformed through the birth of the Redeemer, made possible by Mary, (“a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… who gave birth to a son – a boy destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and His throne”). – This woman, our Blessed Mother, enables the incorporation of the reign of God into the world. She is the  woman destined to crush the head of the apocalyptic serpent.

St. John of Damascus speaks about this in the 8th century when he says of the Blessed Mother that she “has become the terror of demons, the city of refuge for those who turn to her. [He has her say:] Come to me in faith, O people, and draw as from a river of grace. Come to me in faith, without doubt, and draw from the mighty and certain source of grace.”

On the solemnity of the Assumption – we recalled Blessed John Paul 2nd saying “…the Assumption of the Mother of Christ in Heaven forms part of the [Lord’s teaching about] His victory over death – the beginning of which is found in the death and resurrection of Christ.”

So in today’s memorial – Mary, the humble daughter of our Heavenly Father, garbed in the majestic robes of a queen takes her place next to the throne of her resurrected and ascended Son.

Why? 

Because the Church desires to teach us that Mary is privileged – beyond all other women and men – to be the first and most significant human being to participate in the glory, triumph, and reign of God. By her very willingness to become the Mother of God – the Theotokos – she agreed to become our spiritual Mother, too.

In this beautiful sacred image by Blessed John of Fiesole, also known as Fra Angelico, the great Dominican artist of 15th century Florence, portrays the moment of Our Lady’s Coronation – with the Heavenly court surrounding her. Interestingly, you see men and women saints that were alive thousands of years after Mary’s assumption observing the event. Why did the good Friar do that? He is expressing the fact that Heaven is within the eternal now of the Trinity – the knowledge of that coronation moment is known by St. Thomas Aquinas – who looks out at the observer (in the lower left corner) – and notes the truth, goodness, and beauty of God in desiring this for His beloved and humble human daughter – the Queen of Heaven.

The Blessed Mother, in her regal beauty, authority, and power, has not left us orphans – for she is “the Living Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Inviolate Mountain, the ladder” that joins Heaven and earth – the “One who Shows the Way” (Hodigitria) to her Son and to our Heavenly reward.

If we remain faithful and loyal to the teachings of Christ – as expressed through our Sacred Scriptures and our Church – and as the Epistle of St. James teaches – “Act on that faith…” then we, too, will reign alongside our Heavenly Mother as we give praise and glory to God.

Our Lady – Queen of Heaven – pray for us.        Sources: John Paul 2, L’Osservatore Romano, August 15, 1983; Pope Pius 12th – encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, October 11, 1954.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Dormition – Assumption of Mary

Over the past two weeks, our Sunday Gospels have stressed the truth that to be a faithful disciple of Christ we must keep our focus – in good times and bad – on Jesus. On August 15th, the solemnity of the Assumption/Dormition of Mary, the Church again directs our gaze – for in focusing on Mary we see not only our Queen – but the one true sign – the Great Sign – who points the way to her Son.

Her signature was that of a perfect disciple – for she possessed the confident competence and the courageous commitment – of true faith.

In the “fullness of time” – after millennia of human history – the Father of Mercies saw in Mary – a loving and lovable woman who possessed great courage – the person – who in her simplicity and purity would be completely open, totally surrendering, and free from the pollution of pride or self-will.  She was the woman who would be the New Eve – the mother of the living – the mother of a new creation. She is, as the Eastern Rite proclaims, the All Holy Onethe Panagia, who as our spiritual mother shows us the way by guiding us to her Son – and through His grace – enables us to be reborn into eternal life.

It is through our own rebirth, through water and the Spirit, that we are able to bear fruit and imitate Mary in bringing the newborn Christ to others. St. Maximus the Confessor speaks of this when he says “Every soul that believes, conceives and gives birth to the Word of God according to faith. Christ is the fruit – and all of us – are mothers of the Christ.” (quote found in Vladimir Zelinsky’s  “Mary in the Mystery of the Church: The Orthodox Search for Unity” which is contained in Mary CoRedmptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate – Theological Foundations II. M.I. Miravalle, S.T.D., editor).

This beautiful sacred icon was done by one of my teachers – the master Marek Czarnecki of Seraphic Restoration Studio in Meriden, Connecticut. It is done in the traditional egg tempera and measures 13 by 17 inches. It is different from one of the most famous sacred images of  the Italian Renaissance – The Assunta by the master – Titian – yet Czarnecki’s sacred icon is theologically, aesthetically, and semantically correct. Titian painted his Assunta between 1516-18.

Our Catechism (of the Catholic Church, paragraph 966), proclaims that “The Immaculate Virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up – body and soul – into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords, and the conqueror of sin and death”

This proclaims the wonderful news that the Assumption of Mary is a participation in the act of her Son being raised from the dead – and so is a Sign – a Sign that points to our own resurrection and union with God. The Eastern Rite liturgy says on its August 15th celebration of this solemnity: “In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the Source of Life.”

Our Blessed Mother’s words in her beautiful Canticle, and her personal destiny, are inseparably linked to our own – for she is one of us; and by keeping our focus on her Son  – we too – through the grace of God – will experience His mercy which lasts from age to age on those who fear Him.

 

Below Titian’s masterpiece is a traditional Orthodox icon of the Dormition (or falling asleep) of Mary with the grieving apostles surrounding her bed. This icon was painted (“written”) by Irina Kolbneva.

One of the purposes of this blog is that we will explore how a sacred icon is painted (“written”) in the Eastern Church’s tradition and how the Western Church began to explore new avenues of visual expression after being in harmony with the Eastern Church for the first thousand years of our existence.

(Additional sources: The Book of Revelation, Chapter 19; Lumen Gentium, 59; and Pope Pius 12th in his Munificentissimus Deus (November, 1950).  Our Lady of the Assumption, pray for us.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.