Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Open Forum 1

( no longer open. Thanks for participating!)

Welcome to Barque of Peter's first Open Forum. After a few squabbles in recent posts (particularly about what's "on topic"), and the subsequent drop-off in posts altogether--as well as the fact that the current Rosary Meditation series is intentionally non-apologetic, and so many people have questions and concerns about what I've written--I wanted to pause in between each set of mysteries and offer a chance for comments, criticisms, arguments, encouragements, or whatever's on your mind.

It's an Open Forum, so if you want to address something I've written in the last five posts, fire away. If you want to wrangle over doctrine unrelated to anything ever discussed here before, fire away! Whatever's on your mind, state it. And if you just want to use the comments section as a place to discuss things with each other, and leave me out of it altogether--that's great too!

I'll just give three disclaimers:
1st--If this goes well, we'll do them a lot more often!
2nd--Chris and I reserve the right to use anything in the comments as fodder for future posts.
3rd--Let everything you say be said in a spirit of charity.

Other than that, have fun! Let the good times roll!

(Category: Miscellaneous: Open Fora)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Fifth Joyful Mystery

Finding Jesus in the Temple

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (2:41-52)
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

This one story is the only canonical record we have of Jesus' life between the time of His birth and His baptism by John in the Jordan. And unlike various accounts in apocryphal gospels like the so-called "of Thomas", St. Luke's account is comparatively unextraordinary. Yet, like all biblical stories, and especially the mysteries of Christ's life, it is packed with deep significance.

The main thing that we note about this episode is that it is a rehearsal of the Cross. This is the first time that Jesus would have made the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, just as the last time He enters Jerusalem would be for that quintessential Passover in which He offered Himself as the sacrificial Lamb. Likewise, in this account, Jesus is lost for three days, clearly foreshadowing how in His death, He would be "lost" to His Mother and His followers for three days until the Resurrection.

But in this rehearsal, unlike the final run, it is not Jesus Himself who suffers, but His Mother. The rehearsal of the Cross was not for Christ's sake, but was to give Mary a taste of what Simeon had prophesied to her 12 years before--that a sword would pierce her heart. Being the Mother of God would come to her at great cost, and she is beginning to see that again in this episode, as she first saw it dimly when Simeon proclaimed it, and as she saw it again when the Holy Family had to flee into Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. While the Sword of Suffering never fully pierced Mary's heart until the lance pierced the Heart of Jesus, nevertheless, it was always constant in her life, pricking her and reminding her, and us, that Love costs something.

Who but a mother can know the pain in Mary's heart when first she realised that Jesus was missing? What panic must have gripped her as she went from first one person to another in their caravan returning to Nazareth, and finding still no trace of Him. And then, in Jerusalem, every day for those three days, not being able to eat or sleep for worry, wondering what could have become of Jesus, her Son! Who doesn't empathise with her reaction and words to our Lord when she finds Him in the temple: "Child, why have you treated us like this?" "What were You thinking? We've been scared out of our minds, Your father and I!"

In the Rehearsal of Calvary, Mary now reacts the way that Jesus' disciples would react later, from Peter's first rebuke, "Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen!" (Matt 16:22), to the disciples' later cowering in fear behind locked doors, their dreams shattered at the loss of their Messiah. We will touch on this again when we reflect on the Glorious Mysteries, for it is interesting to note that Jesus' Mother Mary never once appears in the accounts of His Resurrection appearances! Surely this is a strange thing! Surely He would have shown Himself alive to His Mother! And I believe He did. But I believe there is a very clear reason why it was not recorded: every resurrection account details Jesus appearing to those who had lost hope, who had lived those three days in worry and doubt! Mary was not among them. We do not hear of her again until that Pentecost Sunday when the Church was born--and then she is listed with the community of believers (cf. Acts 1:14).

Mary remembered that trip to Jerusalem for Jesus' first Passover, and the second time around, she continued to hope, remembering Jesus' words to her that first time: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Most biblical transaltions note that the second question could be translated, "Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" At the Crucifixion, Mary knew with certainty that Jesus was "about [His] Father's business," and so she freely offered Him on that Cross as the Sword of Sorrow transfixed her heart. But that sorrow, as well as this, would be juxtaposed with wonder; and while Mary at the time did not understand Jesus' words about His Father's house, as she continued to "treasure these things in her heart" and to meditate upon them, she began to fully understand what the young Jesus already knew--what the Angel had tried to tell her from the beginning--Jesus was no ordinary child. That much was clear. But what that extraordinary quality was, is simply that Jesus is Divine.

And yet, despite Jesus being God-made-Man, and the King of all Heaven and Earth, He nevertheless continued to humble Himself, and so subjected Himself in obedience to His earthly parents, again modelling virtue for us, and, in living it, fulfilled the Law in order to be its Perfect Sacrifice. And so, even now, at the age of twelve, Jesus was already performing the Work of Redemption, just as He was preparing His mother for its final act.

May we, like Mary, meditate upon her Son, so that we too may be prepared when the great trials to our faith come. Because they will come. But as Jesus told His disciples later on, and showed to Mary here, we must "take courage, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Amen.

(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Fourth Joyful Mystery

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (2:22-40)
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."
And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

Ever since that very first Passover, in which God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, by killing the first-born sons of Egypt, but ransoming the first-born sons of the Israelites by the blood of the lamb, God demanded that every first-born child be consecrated to Him. In a manner, He chose the priestly tribe of the Levites in lieu of the first-born sons; nevertheless, each family had to buy back (redeem) their sons from God (Numbers 18:15-16), and to make a sacrifice of ritual purification through the offering of a lamb and a turtledove (or, if the family was poor, two turtledoves, as Luke records, again showing us the absolute condescension of the Most High God to be not only a Child, but a poor Child; cf. Leviticus 12:1-4).

It is this ritual which is being performed in the story of the Presentation, as Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the Temple to consecrate Him to the Lord. And while St. Luke tells us that the sacrifice was made, he's mum about the redemption fee: Jesus was not any Son, but the Son of God, and Mary knew this. It was not for her to buy Him back, but to offer Him freely to God--an act that would be ongoing in her until that final act of offering Him at the Cross. He who was not redeemed would be the Redemption of the world!

Once again we see the utter obedience of the Holy Family: first, in Mary's assent to the Angel, and later in Joseph's assent to God in taking Mary as his wife. Now we see their obedience in offering Jesus to the Lord, and in making a sacrifice for a purification that wasn't needed by Mary except "to fulfil all righteousness", just as Jesus' baptism wasn't needed by Him for His own salvation, but only as His demonstration, first, of total humble obedience to the Father, and second, His absolute identification with sinners. So Mary, utterly pure in her conception, and suffering no loss to her virginity in birth, needed no purification physically-speaking, but nevertheless she was obedient to the command of the Law, and submitted to it in humility.

It was this humble submission to the Laws of God that made possible Mary's next mediatorial act, as she presented the Christ to Simeon, who had waited long years to see Him. What a joy that must have been to the old man, who never doubted God's promise that he would see the Salvation of Israel and the Light to the Gentiles! And as Simeon's words reveal, this Presentation included with it the promise of the Cross, as Christ would "be a sign to be opposed". As Archbishop Fulton Sheen writes,
Simeon...said that the Babe would disclose the true inner dispositions of men. He would test the thoughts of all who were to encounter Him. Pilate would temporize and then weaken; Herod would mock; Judas would lean to a kind of greedy social security; Nicodemus would sneak in darkness to find the Light; tax collectors would become honest; prostitutes, pure; rich young men would reject His poverty; prodigals would return home; Peter would repent; an Apostle would hang himself. From that day to this, He continues to be a sign to be contradicted. It was fitting, therefore, that He should die on a piece of wood in which one bar contradicted the other. The vertical bar of God's will is negated by the horizontal bar of the contradicting human will. As the Circumcision pointed to the shedding of blood, so the Purification foretold His Crucifixion (Life of Christ, p.38) .
And just as Jesus would be a sign that was contradicted, Simeon warned Mary that her involvement in Redemption, her role in mediating Christ to the world, would involve her own suffering, just as it did Christ's: "And a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Lk 2:35). In fact, the sword in Mary's heart and the spear in Jesus' heart seem to be inseparable, together for the same purpose: the revealing of men's hearts. For while the NRSV (used above) makes Simeon's words to Mary seem like an afterthought, the original Greek places "and a sword will pierce your own soul too" immediately before the statement that "the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed". Perhaps there is some indication in the Greek which this layman doesn't know about that causes most translations to bracket the words about Mary's suffering as separate from or incidental to Simeon's prophecy, and someone more versed in Greek could point it out to me in the comments. But it would seem that Mary's suffering is intimately united to Christ's, and thus bound up in a subordinate and secondary way to our Salvation, though nevertheless as a vital component. Archbishop Sheen again writes,
She was told that He would be rejected by the world, and with His Crucifixion there would be her transfixion. As the Child willed the Cross for Himself, so He willed the Sword of Sorrow for her. If He chose to be a Man of Sorrows, He also chose her to be a Mother of Sorrows! God does not always spare the good from grief. The Father spared not the Son, and the Son spared not the mother. With His Passion, there must also be her compassion. An unsuffering Christ Who did not freely pay the debt of human guilt would be reduced to the level of an ethical guide; and a mother who did not share in His sufferings would be unworthy of her great role (ibid.).
Let us take recourse to our Mother of Sorrows, confident that she will lead us deeper into the mystery of love and forgiveness found in the Heart of our Suffering Saviour. May we strive to be obedient to God's laws as the grace of Christ empowers us, and may we, as Simeon, wait with patient faith for His final victory and our final Salvation! Amen.

(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Third Joyful Mystery

The Nativity of Jesus

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (2:1-21)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

I will admit to a great sacrilege here. Christmas is not my favourite time of year. In fact, ever since the allure of getting an annual Lego set wore off, Christmas just wasn't the same. (Actually, if I recall correctly, receiving the annual Lego set ended before the allure wore off. I guess my parents figured I'd outgrown Legos before I had...Anyway...) Now, there are a lot of reasons why people tend to disdain Christmas: it's too commercial; they had a traumatic experience one Christmas; or various other reasons. I can honestly say that those aren't my reasons for never really appreciating Christmas. It might be too commercial for some people, but that's honestly a matter of choice. It doesn't have to be for you, if you choose not to let it. I've also never experienced some sort of Christmas-related trauma, thankfully. No, my reasons for never appreciating Christmas are ostensibly more "spiritual".

You see, Christmas is about Jesus coming to earth, as a baby. As a devout Christian, I'm interested in how Jesus saves me, what He did to redeem Mankind. And growing up, I was always taught (rightly) that Jesus saved us by His death on the Cross. Well, that was some thirty-three years after He was born as a baby in Bethlehem. So while obviously Jesus' birth was a necessary way to begin God's life as a human being, I was always too impatient to move on to the really important holiday: Easter.

It honestly wasn't until I became interested in Catholicism, and began attending Mass, that Christmas began to actually mean something more to me than a necessary prerequisite. Now, I know I'm likely going to take flak for that statement, from Protestants who love Christmas and perhaps realised what I'm going to say in this meditation without having to become a Catholic. I'm not saying that my newer appreciation for Christmas is a proof for Catholicism or a fault for Protestantism. I'm simply saying, "This is how it was for me."

You see, Jesus' saving act wasn't limited to Calvary. Revelation 13:8 points out that He is the Lamb "slain from the foundation of the world." So His redemptive act began in intention, if not in fact, from all eternity (It's not as if, after all, the Cross was "plan B" for a situation that caught the omniscient God off-guard). But in a very real way, Christ's saving action began tangibly at the moment of His conception (which is why the Rosary starts with the Annunciation--because it traces the Gospel of Christ's salvation through its mysteries). In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas was of the opinion that Christ's becoming Man was enough of an act to effect our Salvation, and he claims that His death was simply the way He showed us how ugly sin is. While I'm not entirely sure that I agree with St. Thomas' assessment on that matter, it is food for thought. And the thought is this: everything, and I mean everything, that Jesus did here on earth, brought us redemption. Everything He did was salvific, not simply His death on the Cross. In fact, it is all of a piece. It is all interconnected. Or as Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, "It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was first, and cast its shadow back to His birth" (Life of Christ, p. 14). It is this realisation that made me appreciate the Christmas story.

We see Christ's redemptive act in the Nativity in His very and utter reversal of that Original Sin which separated men from God--that sin of pride which said, "I want to be my own God and rule my own life!" Christ, then, overturned completely that attitude, as His arrival as the New Man. Where men wanted to be gods, God deigned to become a Man. Where men were filled with pride at their own self-importance, God caused Himself to become unimportant by worldly standards: He became not just a Man, but a Baby. Where men wanted to become the masters of their own destinies, the Christ-child caused Himself to become wholly dependent upon His mother and foster-father. Unable to eat, He had to be fed; unable to walk, He had to be carried; unable to take care of Himself, He had to be mothered. He, the great and omnipotent God who created Heaven and Earth, had now entered it, and became utterly dependent.

But it was not even as a rich King's son that He was born. He so disregarded His divine dignity as to be born into poverty, and laid in a barn's feeding-trough because no one in Bethlehem could find it in their hearts or in their homes to put up a pregnant woman for the night. Christ, the King and creator of the world, could find no welcome in it--as He Himself said, "no place to lay His head" (Matt 8:20). Fulton Sheen again writes, "When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be: 'There was no room in the inn'" (ibid., p. 21).

The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (cf. Ps 50:10) made His bed among them. From this descent into poverty, a renewed emphasis on the poor is proclaimed--that which the Church calls "the preferential option for the poor," or as Jesus Himself would proclaim, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18). It is thus fitting that poor shepherds nearby would be the first to hear the good news from the angels, directing them to the stable. It was these shepherds, who themselves likely were tending and raising the lambs for the following Passover, who were the first to adore "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," and they who were the first to go and "praise God for all they had seen and heard" (Lk 2:20). Thus again, the shadow of the Cross hung over the stable, to borrow Fulton Sheen's phrase.

Jesus' plan of salvation, achieved ultimately in the Cross, and perpetuated and applied through our participation in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist also finds foreshadowing in the Nativity, as the Living Bread Who came down from Heaven was born in Bethlehem, the "House of Bread", and laid in a manger, literally, an "eating place".
In the filthiest place in the world, a stable, Purity was born. He, Who was later to be slaughtered by men acting as beasts, was born among beasts. He, Who would call Himself the "living Bread descended from Heaven," was laid in a manger, literally, a place to eat. Centuries before, the Jews had worshipped the golden calf, and the Greeks, the ass. Men bowed down before them as before God. The ox and the ass were now present to make their innocent reparation, bowing down before their God (Life of Christ, p.22).
I had said at the beginning that I never was thrilled with Christmas. Part of the reason was always that I felt people took it too lightly--a Baby in a manger was not an image that called people to repentance. He was too small, too cute. And yet, it was this humilation, this littleness, that makes us able to love God. Another word from Archbishop Sheen will say what I mean more eloquently,
No man can love anything unless he can get his arms around it, and the cosmos is too big and too bulky. But once God became a Babe and was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, men could say, "This is Emmanuel, this is God with us" (ibid., p.26).
Thus the Christ-child, just by being a child, already begins to reconcile us to God.

The encounter with the shepherds is now Mary's second act of mediation--the second time in which she brings Jesus to us. In a sense, it is the ultimate time, for she has borne Him into the world. But in a specific manner, she then presents Jesus to the shepherds, who relate all that they had been told by the angels. Again we see her quiet humility, as she directs the shepherds to the Child, and not to herself. And we see her modelling the contemplative spirit which should govern all of us her children, as we seek to know Jesus more, for "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2:19). It is not the only time that Luke mentions her reflecting and treasuring the mysteries of her Son, and just as it must have been a regular part of her life, as she saw Jesus grow "in wisdom, stature, and in favour with God and men" (Lk 2:52), so she becomes our model and our teacher through the Rosary, as we meditate on these same mysteries.

We also should realise that Mary was more than simply a "necessary vessel" through which Jesus could become a Man and be born, for this most obviously was not the extent of Mary's role--to give birth to the Messiah and then recede into oblivion. No, for it was Mary who mothered Jesus, who clothed Him and fed Him and changed Him and protected Him as He grew. She was just as much a mother as any mother ever has been--and every mother will tell you that their job involves far, far more than giving birth! Moreover, Mary was the mother to whom Jesus had to be obedient, and whom He had to honour. Without Mary, and Joseph, Jesus could not have fulfilled the Law to honour one's mother and father. Mary's role is always secondary to Christ's, but it is not, by that reason, expendable. Not in the least.

Within eight days of His birth, Mary again acts as mediatrix, as she brings Jesus to be circumcised. And again, the shadow of the Cross falls across the Baby, as He begins already to shed His blood for the salvation of sinners, and in so doing, receives the name above all names: Jesus--the Saviour. He does not receive the Name at the Cross, or upon His resurrection, but here, at His circumcision, when first His blood is shed. All of Christ's life was lived in order to redeem a fallen humanity. As Fulton Sheen again comments,
In the Circumcision of the Divine Child there was a dim suggestion and hint of Calvary, in the precocious surrendering of blood. The shadow of the Cross was already hanging over a Child eight days old....But whenever there was an indication of Calvary, there was also some sign of glory; and it was at this moment when He was anticipating Calvary by shedding His blood that the name of Jesus was bestowed on Him (Life of Christ, p.33).
As we treasure all these things in our hearts with Mary, our Mother, let us not be in a hurry to rush past the Nativity to the Cross, but in patience and meditative wonder, see God's plan of salvation unfold step by step. For as all parents can attest, He'll grow up before you know it, and you don't want to miss a second of what He has done for us! Amen.

(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Second Joyful Mystery

The Visitation

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (1:39-56)
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

On its surface, the story of the Visitation seems like a quaint meeting of two pregnant cousins in a beautiful display of family love and blessing--but even the surface of the story holds deep insights. And yet, there's even more to it than meets the eye!

Very shortly after the Annunciation of Gabriel, Mary makes her way from Nazareth down to Judea--rather a bit of a trek, and Luke doesn't bother to tell us who she went with. However, if we assume that the Church's traditional date of March 25 for the Annunciation is correct, then it's very possible she made the trip on the way to Jerusalem for the Passover or Pentecost. As such, she'd have no want of companions for her journey.

I remember reading some scholarly biblical notes that pointed out an apparent discrepancy between John's discussion of John the Baptist's claim to not know Jesus, and Luke's claim that they were relatives, and how there seems to be a disconnect in the traditions. But if we read Luke's account, it seems like, while Elizabeth and Mary were related, they weren't all that close. After all, you'd think someone other than an Angel would break the news to you that your elderly cousin is miraculously pregnant--and that they would have done so before six months had gone by! Since that wasn't the case with Mary, it seems that they weren't all that close, and so it's not overly expected that John the Baptist would have grown up together with Jesus. Whatever the case, it's incidental to our reflection.

For now, let's explore the mystery of the story itself:
Mary journeys to her cousin, Elizabeth, and in so doing, performs her first act of mediation. That is, as she carries Jesus in her womb, she very literally brings Him to her relative. That this isn't some simplistic way of looking at things, Luke tells us very plainly--that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant in her womb leapt for joy, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit! That is, the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon mother and child when Mary brought Jesus to them! This act itself fulfilled the word of Gabriel to Zacharias that John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15)! This bestowal of the Holy Spirit, then, was a foreshadowing of Mary's role as advocate, bringing us to her Son, Jesus.

This bestowal of the Holy Spirit prompts Elizabeth to bless Mary, giving us the words to the second part of the Hail Mary prayer: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth continues and concludes with the reason that Mary is blessed: "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Luke 1:45). Mary is our model of faith and obedience to the will of God! And she is the sign to us that when we are obedient as well, we will be blessed by God. This verse points us to another truth. I often hear some Protestants try to minimise Mary's importance by citing Jesus' words in Luke 11:27-28:
While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"
Jesus is not here diminishing Mary's blessedness, but affirming it! The echo to Elizabeth's blessing is clear. The real reason that Mary was blessed wasn't because she bore and nursed Jesus, but because she was obedient to God, in faith, which preceeded and caused Jesus' birth. It is Mary's perfect faith that makes her "most blessed among all women" as the New Jerusalem Bible puts it.

Now, I said before, and I'm sticking to it, that I don't want this to be an apologetic series of posts--at least, not in my usual more polemical fashion, so that's all I'll say on that subject. Moving on, then, we see Mary's response to Elizabeth's blessing: The Magnificat. Elizabeth has just called Mary the most blessed of all the women of the world, and instead of getting a swelled head about this, or in any way thinking of herself as someone important, Mary sings out a beautiful hymn of praise, blessing, and faith to God! This again points us to a principle truth regarding Our Lady: any time we praise or bless or honour her, she takes our praise, perfects it by adding it to her own, and gives it wholly and completely to God.

St. Louis de Montfort has this to say:
Lastly, you never think of Mary without Mary thinking of God for you. You never praise or honour Mary without Mary joining you in praising and honouring God. Mary is entirely relative to God. Indeed I would say that she was relative only to God, because she exists uniquely in reference to him.

She is an echo of God, speaking and repeating only God. If you say "Mary" she says "God". When St. Elizabeth praised Mary calling her blessed because she had believed, Mary, the faithful echo of God, responded with her canticle, "My soul glorifies the Lord." What Mary did on that day, she does every day. When we praise her, when we love and honour her, when we present anything to her, then God is praised, honoured and loved and receives our gift through Mary and in Mary. (True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 6.225)
We don't need to fear a true and proper devotion to our Blessed Mother, thinking that it will somehow keep us from God! On the contrary, she herself leads us to God. She herself brings Jesus to us, and us to Jesus. She helps us to have her own perfect faith--that faith that made her blessed, and with which we are ourselves blessed with a more intimate relationship with her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ!

But as I said, this mystery itself is simply what lies on top of the Visitation. And truthfully, it would be enough to stop here and digest that. However, in the last meditation, I said that the "notion of Mary as the New Ark will frequently come up in our meditations, and I will delve into more detail in the next Mystery, that of the Visitation." Since this is our meditation on the Visitation, I cannot move on until I discuss the fact that in Luke's narrative, he subtly reveals to us that Mary is, indeed, the New Ark of the Covenant.

Luke reveals this to us mainly by way of paralleling his Visitation narrative with the 2 Samuel 6 narrative of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem, specifically using the same Greek phrases that appear in the Septuagint OT that his readers would have been familiar with. In fact, the parallels are often so striking, that I sometimes wonder if Luke's detailing this account was done for the sole purpose of showing us the Mary/Ark parallel.

Let's look at the parallels in detail (I am indebted to Scott Hahn's book, Hail, Holy Queen, for first revealing these insights to me):

  • Luke begins his narrative by telling us that, shortly after the Annunciation, "Mary set out and went" to see Elizabeth. In 2 Samuel 6:1-2, we read of how David gathered the chosen men of Israel and they "set out and went" to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem.

  • When Mary arrives and greets Elizabeth, the babe in Elizabeth's womb "leaped for joy" (Luke 1:44, cf. v.41). In 2 Samuel, we see "King David leaping and dancing before the Lord" (vv. 14-16), using a very similar phrase in the Greek to that which Luke employs of John the Baptist.

  • Moreover, in telling Mary about John's leaping, Elizabeth "exclaimed with a loud cry" (v. 42), echoing the "shouting" of David and the people before the Ark (2 Sam 6:15). This is even more striking when we consider that the phrase Luke uses for "exclaimed" is found nowhere else in the New Testament, and in the Septuagint Old Testament, the phrase is used only five times--and each time it is used in reference to the Ark of the Covenant and the people's joy at having God's presence among them!

  • In this loud voice, Elizabeth asks, "And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" (v. 43), a question that David asks almost verbatim in 2 Samuel 6:9, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" It is almost the exact same question, replacing "ark" with "mother".

  • Finally, we see Mary staying with Elizabeth--Mary, whose greeting brought the blessing of the Holy Spirit--and after three months, she returns to her home (v. 56). When terror strikes King David at the death of Uzzah, he leaves the Ark of the Covenant at the home of Obed-Edom (in what would be "a Judean town in the hill country," cf. Luke 1:39). Three months later, David hears that the household of Obed-Edom has been blessed by the Ark's presence there, and so he brings it the rest of the way to Jerusalem.

  • Now, obviously, the stories do not parallel each other one hundred percent. They were, after all, two entirely different events. But the parallels that are there are so thickly woven into the fabric of Luke's brief narrative that they are inescapable. And they serve to show what we said in our last meditation, and will say again before we've finished our Rosary together: that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant, bearing in her womb Jesus, who brings us salvation through the New Covenant in His Blood.

    Let us then honour Mary with the words of Elizabeth in the Hail Mary: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!" knowing that, every time we do so, she transforms our humble prayer into a glorious Magnificat to the glory of the Triune God! Let us also rejoice with a loud voice that, through her obedience, God has come to dwell in the presence of His people in the person of Christ! And let us bring our blessing in Christ's name to all the people we meet today. Amen.

    (Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

    Monday, November 05, 2007

    The First Joyful Mystery

    The Annunciation

    Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
    Blessed art thou amongst women,
    And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
    Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
    Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
    A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (1:26-38)
    In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
    The Gospel of the Lord.
    Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

    The Dominicans have a motto, which runs, "Contemplare et contemplata allis tradere," that is: "To contemplate and then pass on the fruits of this contemplation." The other Dominican motto, simply "Veritas," lets us know what we are to contemplate, and what we are to pass on. It is this motto that prompts me to write this series on the Rosary--not primarily for an apologetic purpose, but for the sake of passing on the fruits of my own contemplation of the Mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary.

    When the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary, his announcement brings the message that Something in the world is changing. God's way of dealing, of interacting, with humanity, is radically changing. What the prophets had foretold is now coming to pass--in this very moment, this small space!

    The angel comes to Mary, bowing before her with the greeting, "Hail, Full of Grace! The Lord is with you!" Mary is troubled at this greeting, wondering what it could mean--and indeed, we too must pause and consider the angel's greeting, and what it means: for it is a mystery within a mystery.

    Throughout history, artists have often painted this scene, and in so doing, many, such as Fra Angelico, present a startling arrangement: Gabriel is bowing to Mary! While St. Luke does not record Gabriel's posture before Mary, and while no angel has ever bowed in the presence of a mere human before or since, this artistic depiction nevertheless expresses several profound and related truths: The first is the uniqueness of the greeting and what it signifies--that Mary is unique among all of God's creatures. She is "Full of Grace". Second, the depiction of the kneeling angel is completely parallel to truth gleaned directly from Luke's Gospel: that is that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant. The third is that, while all apparitions of angels to people are extraordinary and unique circumstances, this one far surpasses them all, as it announces the New and Definitive Covenant in which God will save His people, in Jesus Christ.

    First, then, Gabriel's depiction as kneeling before Mary at the Annunciation visually and poetically echoes the truth that no angel has ever, before or since, addressed a human being in such a way. St. Thomas Aquinas writes,
    With respect to the first, it should be known that in ancient times it was an especially great event when an angel appeared to men, so that men might show them reverence, for they deserve the greatest praise. It was written in praise of Abraham that he received angels hospitably and that he showed them reverence. But it was never heard that an angel showed reverence to a man until he saluted the Blessed Virgin, saying reverently, Hail. (Follow the link for the rest of his discourse.)
    The uniqueness of Gabriel's greeting, his Ave, is followed by the "name" by which he addresses Mary: for while the Church has added the word "Mary" to the Hail Mary, Gabriel simply says, "Hail, Full of Grace." Before he ever calls her by her given name, the angel has, in effect, renamed her.

    Biblically speaking, names are very important. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, we see how a person's name reflects their character--and more, when God chooses to rename a person, that new name represents something specific to that person's vocation and destiny. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of Jacob. His name literally means "Deceiver" or "Supplanter", and he lived up to it throughout his life--from swindling his brother out of his birthright to actually dressing up as his brother to deceive his father. But then, after having to pay severely for his deceptions in order to make peace with his brother and come home, he meets "the Angel of the Lord" on the way, with whom he wrestles. At the end of the struggle, the Angel blesses him with a new name, "Israel": "Prince of God". This new name becomes his new call, and henceforward the call of all his descendants in the nation of Israel--to reign with God, in covenant with Him.

    Right off the bat, it is not as Mary that Gabriel addresses Our Lady, but as "Full of Grace". God is giving her, as it were, a new name, and revealing to her exactly why it is that she is unique, and what her calling and destiny are. In the original Greek in which St. Luke wrote, the word used by Gabriel is "kecharitomene", which is a rather tricky term to translate. Jerome put it as gratia plena in his Vulgate, which the Douay-Rheims translates "Full of Grace", and which is the most popular version of it in the minds of Catholics, due to the Hail Mary's use of it. Other translations, such as the NRSV quoted above, put it as "favoured" or "highly favoured". There really is no one word or two words that can adequately sum up this single Greek word, so let's pause briefly to dive into it:

    The root word is Charitoo, a verb meaning "to bestow grace". What is grace? It has been defined as "God's unmerited favour", and this is certainly true. There is nothing we can do to deserve grace, or as St. Paul says, "otherwise grace is no more grace" (Romans 11:6). However, simply defining grace as "God's favour" seems to be an inadequate definition, when examined according to its use in Scripture. One brief example will show my meaning. Christ tells St. Paul (in 2 Corinthians 12:9), "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Grace, in this Hebraistic parallelism, is equated with the power of God. It goes beyond simply "favour", though it certainly includes that. Rather, it is the very power, the very life of God, which energises us and makes us holy. The grace of God, then, is the antithesis of sin.

    The particular construction of this word gives more depth to its meaning. The second thing to note is that it is in the passive voice. That is, Mary isn't the one bestowing grace. She is the one receiving the grace bestowed. God is giving His power, His life, His grace, to Mary. Finally, the verb "charitoo" is in the perfect past tense. That is, the action of bestowing Grace was completed once and for all at a definite time in the past, and its effects continue into the present and onward, never needing to be repeated. Thus, when Gabriel says to Mary, "Hail, Full-of-Grace", he is saying to her, "Rejoice, you who have once and for all received the fullness of the life and power of God in a remarkable way!" If as we said, Grace is the antithesis for sin, in the Angel's greeting, and renaming, of Mary, we have a basis for the ancient Church teaching of Mary's sinlessness--which, as we'll reflect on further in the next mystery, does not therefore negate Mary's need for a Saviour, but rather shows how extraordinary and unique her salvation really was.

    This belief in Mary being preserved from the stain of original sin (which the Church has dogmatically declared to have taken place at her conception, which is the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception), as I said above in the discussion of Names, shows us Mary's calling and her destiny: She is the Ark of the New Covenant.

    This notion of Mary as the New Ark will frequently come up in our meditations, and I will delve into more detail in the next Mystery, that of the Visitation. For now, I would just point out a few of the typological similarities:
    • The Ark of the Covenant was the most holy item of the Jewish liturgical structure.
    • The Ark of the Covenant held within it the Ten Commandments, the Manna, and Aaron's priestly rod which budded.
    • The Ark of the Covenant was so holy that absolutely no one was able to touch it.
    • The Ark of the Covenant was where God would meet with Moses, in the form of a Cloud (the Shekinah) hovering over the Ark between the two statues of kneeling angels.

    There is more that could be said about the Ark of the Covenant, but we will wait on that for later meditations. Let us reflect on these, especially in the context of the Annunciation, and Mary's fulfilment of the Ark typology.

    • Just as the Ark was the most holy of all of the Jewish temple furnishings, so is Mary, who as we discussed is "Full of Grace" and thus preserved from sin, the most holy of all God's creatures.
    • Just as the Ark held the Law, the Manna, and the sign of Aaron's priesthood within it, Mary held in her womb Jesus, the Son of God, and the fulfilment of each of these types. He is the Divine Lawgiver, as well as God's Logos, the Word of God in the Flesh. He is the Bread of Life, who gives Himself to us in the Eucharist so that all who eat of Him shall not die, but have everlasting life. And He is our Great High Priest, who has made atonement for our sins, and reunited us to the Father.
    • Just as the Ark could be touched by no man, so Mary, Ever-Virgin, was never intimately known. We see a hint of this even here in the Annunciation, that she knew that she was consecrated to Virginity even before the Annunciation of Gabriel, in her question to him, "How can this be, for I am a virgin?" It is not enough to say that this sets up simply the Virgin Birth of Christ, since it seems clear from her need to ask the question, even though she was already engaged to be married (v. 26). Had she intended to enter normal married relations with Joseph, her question would be absurd. That she asked how she could bear a child at all indicates that she expected to remain always a virgin.
    • The final way in which Mary fulfils the type of the Ark of the Covenant at the same time explains the mysterious reason why artists throughout history have depicted Gabriel kneeling or bowing in her presence. This image echoes the two cherubim kneeling on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, between which God's manifest Glory would hover. This is further borne out in Gabriel's answer to Mary's question of how this could be, when he describes to her that the Holy Spirit will "overshadow" her in the power of God Most High. This term reminds us of the Cloud of Glory overshadowing the Ark, as well as the Holy Spirit's hovering over the waters of creation.

    Mary then is the Ark of the New Covenant, which points us directly to the final truth of the Annunciation: that the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary is utterly and absolutely unique, as it heralds the beginning of the New Covenant which God had promised! We spoke briefly above about Jacob's name changing to Israel reflected his calling, as well as those of his descendants--to be princes with God. This Covenant with the people of Israel, however, was continually broken through their sinfulness. Because of this, God spoke these words to the prophet Jeremiah:
    The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:27-34)
    This New Covenant is fulfilled and inaugurated through Jesus Christ, but before the New Covenant can take effect, the Ark of the Covenant must be restored.

    What happened to the original Ark of the Covenant? Because of the sinfulness of the Israelites, the Northern Tribes were taken into exile by Assyria in 722 BC. Just a little more well behaved than their northern neighbours, the Southern nation of Judah was deported to Babylon in 586 BC, just as Jeremiah had predicted. Before this happened, though, Jeremiah took the Ark and hid it. This is recounted in 2 Maccabees:
    One finds in the records that the prophet Jeremiah ordered those who were being deported to take some of the fire, as has been mentioned, and that the prophet, after giving them the law, instructed those who were being deported not to forget the commandments of the Lord, or to be led astray in their thoughts on seeing the gold and silver statues and their adornment. And with other similar words he exhorted them that the law should not depart from their hearts. It was also in the same document that the prophet, having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense; then he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: "The place shall remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. Then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated." (2 Maccabees 2:1-8)
    As Jeremiah prophesied above, it would be in the New Covenant that God would show His Mercy, and here, he says that when this is done, so too will the Ark return, and God's glory and "the cloud" will appear. Thus we see the fulfilment of these things in Mary as the New Ark, over whom the glory of the Lord hovered, and she conceived of the New Covenant when she conceived Christ and bore Him in her womb: Christ--the Saviour who has brought the Mercy of God to all who will believe!

    But note here the risk of God--the divine, omniscient risk-taker! He has chosen the lowly of this world, as Mary herself will express in the next meditation, in order to bring about His great Purpose! That is, God made Himself dependent on Mary's "Yes." Mary's Fiat in response to the Angel's message reveals yet another type which she fulfils, which will again be discussed at greater length as we progress: Mary is the New Eve. While Eve was tempted by a spirit and disobeyed God, Mary was asked by a spirit, and through her obedience, brought forth Christ to save the world. As the early Church Father, St. Irenaeus puts it,
    [When Christ] became incarnate, and was made man, He recapitulated in Himself the long history of man, summing up and giving us salvation in order that we might receive again in Jesus Christ what we had lost in Adam--that is, the image and likeness of God....
    The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. The knot which the virgin Eve tied by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary opened by her belief....
    If the former disobeyed God, the latter was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. (from Quasten's Patrology, vol. 1, p. 296; Irenaeus' Against Heresies, 3.22.3 and 5.19.1, as quoted in Scott Hahn's Hail, Holy Queen, p. 42)
    Thus, let us emulate the humility and the obedience of the New Eve, who has undone the curse of the First Eve, as Christ has undone the disobedience of the First Adam! Let us with reverence venerate the New Ark just as the ancient Israelites venerated the Old Ark, and recognise Mary as the sure path to meeting with Jesus, whom we honour and worship and adore above all else, forever and ever! Amen.

    (Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

    Friday, November 02, 2007

    Co-Authoring (c)Catholics

    It seems that recently there have been some concerns as to the purpose of this site. Gregory, my close friend and co-author of this site, has already explained in one of the comment sections that the site was originally intended as a Catholic Apologetics site, and that I was considering at one point converting to Catholicism. Both intentions are true.

    Since the inception of this site, however, two intentions have changed for me. Most notably, I have decided not to become Catholic. And secondarily, I have refused apologetics along a purely Catholic line, and moved toward a more oecumenical (catholic, wholistic, organic, etc.) defense of the faith.

    That being said, I'd like to conclude this short interruption on the site by saying that as a 'protestant' (however you want to view that label), I am not out to defend my own understandings, the understandings of any particular church affiliation or tradition, or any opinion of such-and-such an author. I am interested in defending what is biblically true, as God Himself gives me wisdom to do so.

    So while Gregory will write from a position of Catholicism, and defend our common faith from the vantage of a convinced Catholic Christian, I will defend our common faith from the vantage of a convinced (small-'c') catholic Christian. Gregory desires to foster an understanding of an historical entity, and its beliefs as they have survived through history; I desire to nurse an understanding of an historic people and their convergent focus on Christ through history. You will see as this blog progresses and picks up speed over the next while that though we have our differences, we are Christians all the same. And it is that common faith that links us as brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 818; Apology of the Augsburg Confession VII & VIII: The Church, 10; Galatians 3:27-28).

    Gregory and I will most certainly disagree at times, and will debate heartily. Both of us are capable learners, writers, and academics. However, the point of our debates with each other -- as it should be for anyone else who comes to this board to debate us or each other, for that matter -- is not to screed, and debunk each other; we simply wish to strive with each other, even against each other, for the purpose of sharpening our understanding of the One who saved us: Jesus Christ, Our Lord. If apologetics between believers can't be done to that end, then we may as well tape our fingers together and shut our mouths from now on. There's no sense in defending for the purpose of offending, and any offense incurred because of a defense should be treated as the 8th commandment enjoins us: not as a false witness; the implication, of course being, that we should consider the other in the best possible light.


    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    October 31st, 2007

    Happy Reformation Day! LOL! I'm sorry, Gregory. I just couldn't help myself. Take it in the liberal spirit of fun it was meant to be.

    Love you, bud! :p I'll take it off the site soon.

    (Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Like Any Good Mystery, You Just Can't Put It Down

    Returning to our reflections on that mightiest of weapons in our arsenal of spiritual warfare, The Rosary, I desire to write one post for and on each mystery of the Rosary, but before I do, I just wanted to discuss this particular aspect of the Rosary: the Sacred Mysteries on which we meditate when we pray the Rosary.

    I remember, back when The Passion of the Christ had come out, I was preparing to do a talk on it at a youth group that I ran at the time. I searched it on the Internet, and, among some good resources I found, I found one article titled "Animated Crucifix", which decried the movie as Catholic propaganda and mariolatry and many such things, and attempted to make these criticisms seem like bad things by sharing their own fundamentalist protestant view of the movie and the "problems" which they address.

    One of the points that they make is that the movie is basically a "Visual Rosary", and then they explain what the Rosary is, and about the Sorrowful Mysteries. They actually explained things fairly accurately, so I had no real qualm, and wondered, quite frankly, what could they find wrong about meditating on Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, His scourging, His crowning with thorns, His carrying His cross, and His Crucifixion. I wondered, what could any Protestant actually find wrong with that.

    Well, what the author found wrong, first, was the name of the Mysteries. He called them "Sorrowful Mysteries" to begin with, but then, in order to criticise them, he had to change their name:

    What is wrong with the five sorrowful mysteries? First, the Rosary is a method of praying that Jesus condemned (Matt 6:7). Second, they are an unscriptural devotion of Catholics. Nowhere in the Bible are these five identified as mysteries. Some true mysteries of the cross are election, adoption, atonement, justification, redemption, sanctification, and glorification. The mystery of the cross is what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah (I Cor 2:6-16; Eph 1:3-12; I Tim 3:16).
    We've already dealt in previous articles with the bulk of this author's complaint, but I wanted to address his points that the Bible doesn't call these events in Christ's life "mysteries", and that the real mysteries of the Cross are "what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah."

    What is a Mystery
    St. Louis de Montfort defines a Mystery as simply "a sacred thing which is difficult to understand" (The Secret of the Rosary, p.54). Thus we speak of the Mystery of the Trinity--that God is One Being subsisting in Three Persons. It will take all eternity to really puzzle through that. Yet, the Trinity is never "identified" as a mystery in the Bible. Jesus being both completely God and completely Man, all in one Person, through the Incarnation--having these two natures, inseparable but unconfused--that is a Mystery, though it is never called one in Scripture. In truth, the Bible doesn't give us a complete catalogue of the Mysteries of the Faith somewhere, saying, "We believe X, which is hard to understand. We believe Y, which is hard to understand. etc."

    But this post is too quickly becoming a polemic against the author in question, and a tirade against Sola Scriptura, which was not my intent. My intent was hopefully to explain what it is that we mean by "mystery", and why the events in Jesus' and Mary's lives, upon which we meditate in the Rosary, are, in fact, "Mysteries".

    If, then, a mystery is a sacred truth that is difficult to understand, then how is it that the particular events in the lives of Jesus and Mary qualify? St. Louis says it thus:
    The works of Our Lord Jesus Christ are all sacred and divine because He is God and man at one and the same time. The works of the Most Blessed Virgin are very holy because she is the most perfect and the most pure of God's creatures. The works of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother can be called mysteries because they are so full of wonder and all kinds of perfections and deep and sublime truths which the Holy Spirit reveals to the humble and simple souls who honour these mysteries (ibid.).
    That is to say, that the Mysteries of the Rosary fit our definition of "sacred truths difficult to understand", because they are, first, true--they happened. Second, they are sacred, because the people who did them, namely, Jesus and Mary, are sacred. And finally, the work or event itself is so thoroughly charged and pregnant with significance and meaning for our faith and salvation, that we could plumb their depths for all eternity and never reach the bottom. And yet, St. Louis reminds us, the Holy Spirit draws us into these mysteries when we approach them with humility.

    And yet, when we think of "Mysteries", we tend to think of abstract theological doctrines, such as the Trinity, or the Hypostatic Union of Christ, or Predestination and Free Will, or some other thing that theologians love to describe to the minutest detail using words with far too many syllables, which seem to have very little to do with the nuts and bolts of our day to day life of faith. It seems that the author of the condemnation of The Passion, of the Rosary, and of Catholicism in general, takes a very similar view, when he says, "The mystery of the cross is what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah" (emphasis mine).

    Physical, tangible events in the day to day lives of people (even the God-Man), don't seem like mysteries because, at least on one side, they seem almost ordinary. Well, almost. It's the so-called "spiritual" things that are the mysteries. It's what Jesus did "spiritually" to save us.

    Well, hold on--what did Jesus do to save us?
    For us men and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
    he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
    and was made man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
    he suffered, died, and was buried.
    On the third day he rose again
    in accordance with the Scriptures;
    he ascended into heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    What Jesus did to save us, to reconcile us with an offended God (No comment about the accuracy or appropriateness of using the name "Jehovah" at this time), was physical. It was tangible. It was Incarnational. Every mystery that exists in the Christian faith is a result of Christ's becoming Man, suffering for our sins, and Dying on the Cross!

    The mysteries of the Rosary, then, remind us of two things: first, that what Jesus did to "spiritually reconcile us to God" was all physical. That is, God's not in the business of "saving souls" as so many think of that expression. He's in the business of saving people. Second, they remind us that those high-fallutin' abstract theological doctrines really do apply to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day life, whether or not we ever learn words like "Hypostatic", "Homoousious", "Transsubstantiation", "Eschaton", or "Vestigium Dei", or what they mean. The mysteries show us that our faith is built on real things--that theology and doctrine are built not on intellectual philosophy, but on People and Relationships. In other words, in the mysteries of the Rosary, as Pope John Paul II put it, "with Mary we contemplate the face of Christ."

    I've already detailed in previous posts what the mysteries of the Rosary are, and so I will not belabour that point. It is my intent, from here on out, essentially to "preach" a sermon for each Rosary, rather than to offer "apologetics", strictly speaking. As I said, the depths of mystery contained in each event in the lives of Mary and of Christ are unfathomable, and what I want to do is not to try to sound their depths or exhaust their mystery. Nor can I. I simply want to write my own reflections on each. There will definitely be apologetic content in each. There will certainly be theological content in each. But my prayer is that what will never be absent is a deeper love for Mary, and most of all for her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as she leads us ever closer to Him.

    God bless

    (Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

    Friday, October 05, 2007

    Melissa's Answer

    In light of Chris' very poignant and sincere question, I've decided to hold off on continuing with the posts on the Rosary, at least for a little while, in the hope that some good fruit will result from the discussion.

    So, while I've sat and thought and attempted to respond to Chris' question below, trying to craft a logical, air-tight, erudite, and unassailable answer, my beautiful wife reflected on her recent trials, and her own personal life of faith, and wrote a beautiful and wise answer. Out of honour for my wife, I told her I would post it as its own article, rather than hiding it away in the Comments of Chris' post. So without further ado...

    What It Truly Means To Be A Catholic!

    • We gather as a community to share our joys and our sorrows.

    • We recognise sorrow and suffering for what it is and unite our sufferings with Christ's -- We don't gloss over this suffering but we embrace it as the thing that made Him truly human and something that we can relate to.

    • We gather to pray, prayers that may not be spontaneous but those which carry great meaning, those which are familiar and so we can say them even when we are weak and faltering. We stand with our brothers and sisters together and pray, and even though our prayers may not be worthy or well-said, our community is praying with us and for us, and so that makes it worth more.

    • We gather and receive the Eucharist and even when we are faltering and unworthy He is still present in it and thereby we receive Him; and so He works inside us and works to change our hearts even when we don't know what to believe anymore. Jesus shows He loves us so much by giving Himself to us again and again even when we aren't always fully able to understand or comprehend it because of our lapses in faith.

    • Being Catholic means an acceptance of others before making judgements about who they are. We understand that we have something unique and special but we don't preach on the street corner and tell people they're going to Hell. We'd rather show you--through the beauty of our churches, the sacredness of our masses, the social justice work that we do--the Gospel of Christ.

    • It is understanding that while God gave us His Word, He knew that it wouldn't be enough for us to try and muddle through it on our own. It is knowing that we have the ability to read and understand Scripture, but that we also have a body of knowledge, love, and learning in the Tradition that binds us together as a community.
    Someone once said that the difference between a Saint and a Theologian is that it takes a Saint just a few words to say what it takes a Theologian books to spell out. Thank you, Sweetheart. I love you.

    (Category: The Church: The Make-up of the Church)

    Sunday, September 30, 2007

    What Is It?

    I hesistate to write this short, little article; I don't want to interrupt the continuity of Gregory's publications. At the same time, I don't want to wait until I lose the desire to read possible answers to the question I want to pose. Namely, "what, in it's purist sense, is Catholicism?" And, "Is that what we see reflected in the Church today?"

    The question is not a trap. It's an honest probe. I'm interested in whatever answers are given.

    Take care,

    (Category: The Church: The Make-up of the Church)

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    History of the Rosary (Part 2)

    From the Ministry of Blessed Alan de la Roche until the Present Day
    This is the conclusion of our very brief look at the history of the Rosary, with a few apologetical remarks at the conclusion.

    At the end of Part 1, we saw how in the century after St. Dominic, the devotion of the Rosary died out and, in the words of St. Louis de Montfort, became "like a thing buried and forgotten" (The Secret of the Rosary, p. 22).

    Blessed Alan de la Roche Rekindles the Rosary
    In 1460, however, Blessed Alan de la Roche once again began to preach the Rosary to the people, and inspired lasting fervour and dedication to its practice. This came about when, one day as the Dominican priest was saying Mass, Jesus spoke to him from the Sacred Host, saying, "How can you crucify Me again so soon?" Startled, Blessed Alan asked, "What did You say, Lord?" Our Lord replied, "You crucified Me once before by your sins, and I would willingly be crucified again rather than having My Father offended again by the sins you used to commit. You are crucifying Me again now because you have all the learning and understanding that you need to preach My Mother's Rosary, and you are not doing so. If you only did this you could teach many souls the right path and lead them away from sin--but you are not doing it and so you yourself are guilty of the sins that they commit." Thus, Blessed Alan resolved to preach the Rosary unceasingly.

    Our Lady also appeared to Blessed Alan on different occasions, spurring him to greater commitment, and revealing the promises that are recorded in Letting God do the Work. St. Dominic himself also appeared to Blessed Alan, in order to tell him of all the great results of his ministry--of the miracles and conversions and blessings brought about by devotion to the Rosary. He said to Blessed Alan, "See the wonderful results I have had through preaching the Holy Rosary! You and all those who love Our Lady ought to do the same so that, by means of this holy practice of the Rosary, you may draw all people to the real science of the virtues." Thus, from the time of Blessed Alan de la Roche, the Rosary has been a common practice among Catholics of all states and walks of life.

    The Battle of Lepanto
    Through praying the Rosary, great miracles and benefits have been poured out on people and nations, because, as St. Louis de Montfort tells us, "It would hardly be possible for me to put into words how much Our Lady thinks of the Holy Rosary and of how she vastly prefers it to all other devotions. Neither can I sufficiently express how highly she rewards those who work to preach the devotion, to establish it and spread it." Among the miraculous intercessions brought about through the Rosary, the one that cemented it in the life of the Church was brought about by the Turkish invasion of 1571. Dr. Kevin Orlin Johnson, Ph.D., tells the story in chapter 12 of Why Do Catholics Do That?

    In October 1571, Europe faced a hopeless challenge. The Turks, raging out of their newly won empire, had already swarmed through the Middle East, conquering every land they entered, slaughtering millions and forcing the survivors to convert to Islam. Having taken the lands of the Levant, they struck across the sea, taking the crucial islands of Crete and Cyprus. At these seafaring islands, the Turkish galleys gathered, aimed like missiles at the Christian kingdoms of the central Mediterranean, menacing Sicily, Venice, and even Rome herself.

    Pope Pius V Ghislieri called upon the Christian princes of Europe to rally in a great league of defense, a new Cursade to beat back the invincible navy that threatened to overrun the continent and destroy the Church. The King of Spain, the princes and nobles of Italy, and many other monarchs responded and hastily assembled a fleet under commanders of many tongues and nations.

    But the Turks had one language, one commander, and one mission. Already skilled in conquest, they far outnumbered the allied forces. There was no way that the Christian fleet looked equal to the challenge. No way on Earth.

    Well, Pius V wasn't depending on earthly help alone. He was a Dominican, devoted to Our Lady, and he called upon the Rosary confraternities of Rome and all over Europe to undertake special processions and public recitations of the Rosary to ask for the prayers of the Blessed Mother.

    On the first Sunday of October, the Christian fleet met the invading Turks off the coast of Greece, in the Gulf of Lepanto. As Christians all over Europe turned to Our Lady through their Rosaries, the Turks surrounded the Christian ships. But the European fleet broke through. At the end of the day's fighting, almost all of the Turks were driven ashore or drowned. Europe was saved.

    Pope Pius ordered an annual commemoration in honour of Our Lady of Victory, and his successor, Gregory XIII, set aside the first Sunday in October as the feast of the Holy Rosary. From that time on, the Rosary has been encouraged, even commanded, by popes, saints, and spiritual leaders. (pp.96-97)
    Throughout the centuries, The Blessed Virgin has appeared to different people throughout the world, calling the Church and the world to greater devotion and piety. Many times these messages included warnings about dire consequences soon to come unless the people repented and turned to God. And very often, the primary manner in which repentance was to be demonstrated was through the Rosary. But nowhere is this more evident than in Our Lady's appearance to the three shepherd children of Fátima, Portugal. In 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on the 13th of every month from May to October to Lucy de Santos and her cousins (except in August, when Mary appeared to her on the 19th, because Lucy had been locked up by the Canton on the 13th as "a disturber of the peace").

    Our Lady revealed herself as "The Lady of the Rosary" and told Lucy many things--namely, to pray the Rosary to end World War I, as well as prophesying the advent of World War II, the rise of Communism, and even the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. While only Lucy could see Our Lady, those with her could see only flashes or haloes of light.

    On the final day of her visits, it was pouring rain. Nevertheless, a crowd of about 100,000 people had come out to try and see something. Despite the rain, Lucy instructed the people to put away their umbrellas and to pray the Rosary instead. Our Lady revealed herself accompanied with St. Joseph and the Infant Jesus who blessed the crowds with the Sign of the Cross. Again, only Lucy saw the apparition, but during it, Mary caused the rain to stop and the sun to come out. The crowd did see, however, the sun suddenly shine out, whirl around like a gigantic fire-wheel, and send out streamers of green, red, orange, and purple which lit up the faces of the multitude. Then, gyrating madly, it plunged downward quickly, and then rose again in a zigzag pattern to its original position.

    The day before, the editor of Lisbon's biggest daily paper, Avelino de Almeida, had written an editorial discounting the apparitions. Nevertheless, he came out to sceptically observe the proceedings--and he himself witnessed the miracle of the sun. He wrote a long and detailed account of it the next day, describing it as "unique and incredible if one had not been a witness of it."

    It was during these apparitions that the Blessed Mary, in instructing Lucy to have the people pray the Rosary as an end to war and for repentance, that Our Mother added another prayer to the litany of Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Bes. Referred to as "The Fatima Prayer," it goes, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy." This prayer illustrates that, contrary to what many who do not understand devotion to Our Lady claim, Mary in no way competes with Jesus' Lordship or His gift of Salvation to us, but, on the contrary, cooperates with Him at every step and leads us more and more to Him.

    The Contributions of Pope John Paul II
    Since the days of St. Dominic until the end of the last century, the Rosary had been divided up into three different sets of mysteries: The Joyful--looking at the events surrounding Christ's life; the Sorrowful--reflecting on His passion and death; and the Glorious--meditating on Christ's resurrection and power in the Church. In 2002, out of his intense devotion to Our Blessed Mother, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter titled Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in which he fills in the gap of Christ's life from His birth to His death. Entitling these new mysteries the Luminous Mysteries, the Holy Father called us to meditate on the public ministry of Christ. To further spread devotion to the Rosary, he also consecrated the year from October 2002 to October 2003 as "The Year of the Rosary."

    While most people have embraced the new mysteries of Christ's life, some people to whom I have spoken have protested, saying that there was nothing wrong or incomplete about the Rosary to begin with. Others have said that it is not right to change the mysteries--that somehow we are violating Catholic doctrine or some such thing. To these statements I reply that the Rosary isn't a matter of "doctrine" so that's a ridiculous charge from the outset. Furthermore, while the Rosary certainly was complete and effective before the new mysteries, how can one protest against having even more of Christ's life on which to meditate?

    The Rosary, as I have shown in these articles, was not a static prayer handed down once for all in an enshrined and inviolable form--but a technique of prayer that has developed and evolved since the beginning of Christianity until the present. From reciting the Psalms to substituting Our Fathers or Hail Marys in their place, to St. Louis de Montfort's own contribution of adding the Glory Be to the end of each decade, and Our Mother's own instruction about the Fátima Prayer, the Rosary has continued to become even more perfect. Even the original mysteries that St. Dominic proclaimed weren't exactly the same as those that we have today. What then is to prevent the completion of the Gospel of the Rosary with the mysteries of Christ's ministry?

    Finally, by way of personal testimony, it was meditating on the second of the new mysteries, The Wedding at Cana, that really led me to understand and love Our Lady, and further meditation on that same mystery was the initial inspiration for this forthcoming series of posts on the Rosary, and the following one on Mary herself. Thus the new mysteries are bearing good fruit--and it is by their fruit that you shall know and judge them.

    The Superiority of the Rosary
    In the first part of our History, we saw how the Rosary initially developed as a sort of "Poor Man's Psalter"--that is, that the monastic practice of reciting 150 Psalms was translated to the recitation of 150 Hail Marys so that the illiterate peasants who wanted to emulate the monks' devotion could do so. From the time of Saint Dominic to the time of Blessed Alan, therefore, the Rosary was most often referred to as "The Psalter of Jesus and Mary". Since this accommodation was made in a time when the normal workaday person could not be expected to read or write, let alone afford to own a Bible of their own and learn the Psalms, I have heard it objected that, in our world today of widespread availability of the Bible and greater levels of literacy, returning to the monastic practice of reciting the Psalms would be preferable to the recitation of Our Fathers and Hail Marys. Protestants have argued this out of a desire to avoid "Mariolatry", while some Catholics have proposed it in order to further "ecumenism."

    To this proposal, I would object rather strongly for several reasons: the first being that, since the time of St. Dominic, the Rosary has become a devotion wholly different and separate from the recitation of the Psalms in the selfsame way that, though Christianity originally sprung out of Judaism and traces Her roots there, Christ's Church is an entity and organisation separate and distinct from Her Jewish ancestors. Moreover, the Rosary as such has been confirmed again and again by Our Lord and His Mother as being of principle value for our spiritual life--and has been attested to by many and various miraculous signs.

    For the remainder of my objections, I defer once again to the wisdom of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort:
    Since simple and uneducated people are not able to say the Psalms of David, the Rosary is held to be just as fruitful fo them as David's Psalter is for others.
    But the Rosary can be considered to be even more fruitful than the latter for three reasons:
    1. Firstly, because the Angelic Psalter bears a nobler fruit, that of the Word Incarnate, whereas David's Psalter only prophesies His coming;
    2. Secondly, just as the real thing is more important than its prefiguration and as the body is more than its shadow, in the same way the Psalter of Our Lady is greater than David's Psalter which did no more than prefigure it;
    3. And thirdly, because Our Lady's Psalter (or the Rosary made up of the Our Father and the Hail Mary) is the direct work of the Most Blessed Trinity and was not made through a human instrument. (The Secret of the Rosary, p. 25)
    Finally, I would note that, with the addition of the five new Luminous Mysteries, the Rosary of 200 Hail Marys now surpasses definitively David's Psalter of 150 Psalms.

    As we pray Mary's Psalter, the Rosary, and meditate on the Mysteries of the life of Her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, we are led by her ever deeper into that Life, and receive grace upon grace from God. Let us not neglect or reject this most precious devotion, but rather partake eagerly of its fruits as we honour Our Saviour and His Blessed Mother.


    Catholic Answers ( [Source of the online text of Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter on the Rosary.]

    Grignon, St. Louis-Marie, de Montfort. The Secret of the Rosary. (Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1991.) [Beyond what was directly cited, this work provided the information for Blessed Alan de la Roche.]

    Johnson, Dr. Kevin Orlin, Ph.D. Why Do Catholics Do That?: A Guide to the Teachings and Practices of the Catholic Church. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994) [As cited, this is the source for the narration of the Battle of Lepanto.]

    Sheridan, John D. The Hungry Sheep: Catholic Doctrine Restated Against Contemporary Attacks. (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington-House Publishers, 1974.) [Referenced for the details regarding the Fátima Miracle and Senhor Almeida's comments about it.]

    (Category: Catholic Distinctives: Mary, Mother of God.
    Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.
    The Church: Christian History)

    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    History of the Rosary (Part 1)

    The Rosary from The Early Church until the time of St. Dominic
    I had originally intended this to be one article, but the sheer volume of it necessitated my splitting it up.

    Just a Fad?
    Scott Hahn, in his book, Hail, Holy Queen, remarks that "No area of Christian life is so susceptible to fads and fashions as the techniques of prayer." (p. 169) He's certainly got a point. Enter any Christian bookstore, and the shelves are lined with books advocating this style or that technique--some new and some old. Consider, for one obvious example, the "Prayer of Jabez" from a few years back. It seems a funny thing that this faddishness should be the case wih prayer. Yes, there are definitely "techniques" in prayer; ways of doing it or helping us remember to, or focus better, and whatnot. But it almost smacks of trying to manipulate God--the notion that, "Well, if I do it this way, then I'll definitely get God's attention!"

    In light of this, you might remark that my recent seeming obsession with the Rosary here at Barque of Peter is indicative of my own succumbing to a fad or trend. But I assure you that this is not the case. In my attempt to demonstrate that the Rosary is more than a faddish technique, I want to write about its origins and a bit about its status as a form of prayer within Catholic devotion.

    The "Rosary" of the Early Church
    In his devotional little book, The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort writes,

    Since the Holy Rosary is composed, principally and in substance, of the Prayer of Christ and the Angelic Salutation, that is, the Our Father and the Hail Mary, it was without doubt the first prayer and the first devotion of the faithful and has been in use all through the centuries, from the time of the apostles and disciples down to the present.
    But it was only in the year 1214, however, that Holy Mother Church received the Rosary in its present form and according to the method we use today.
    That is to say, that since the Our Father was taught to us straight from the lips of Christ, and the Hail Mary is a compilation of the Angel Gabriel's words and of St. Elizabeth's words to Mary, that these two prayers were known and said by devout Christians right from the beginning of the Church's history--though, as St. Louis admits, not exactly organised in the manner which we are used to.

    Early Christian Marian Devotion
    Some might object to that statement, saying that all this devotion to Mary is a construct of the Middle Ages, and that no Christian in ancient times would have accorded her such honour. But this goes counter to the historical record. We see artistic depictions of Mary in the Catacombs of Rome. We know that key sites of her life were places of pilgrimage (such as her home in Ephesus, and her tomb there as well--an empty tomb, for the record). In Egypt, in about the year 300 (which early date precludes us from claiming that Marian devotion entered into the Church through pagan influence after the time of Constantine), we have record of an ancient Christian prayer to Mary that conveys more or less the same meaning as more modern prayers such as the Hail, Holy Queen or the Memorare: the Sub Tuum Praesidium:
    We fly to your patronage, O holy Theotokos;
    Despise not our petition in our necessities,
    But deliver us always from all dangers,
    O ever-glorious and Blessed Virgin.
    The term used for Mary in this prayer, "Theotokos", is Greek for "Mother of God" (Literally, God-bearer, or one who carries God in her womb). From earliest days, Christians recognised that Christ was, in fact, God made flesh--made flesh through Mary's participation, through her carrying Him in her womb. Thus, she rightly is called the Mother of God. But in the early fifth century, some controversy broke out over the use of this term--not because Christians felt that it gave too much honour to Mary, but because certain heretics felt that it gave too much honour to Jesus. They believed that Mary only gave birth to Jesus' human nature, and that, at some point after His birth, God infused Him with His divine nature--basically, they believed that Jesus wasn't truly Human and truly God. As such, the heretics taught that "Theotokos" was an incorrect way of describing Mary, and that "Christotokos" should be substituted.

    Because of this teaching, and the often outraged reaction to it (particularly in Ephesus, where Mary lived out her final days), Pope Celestine I convened the Council of Ephesus to decide on the matter. The Pope strongly defended the title of Mother of God, and was backed up by the eminent theologian, Cyril of Alexandria, who wisely pointed out that a mother doesn't give birth to a "nature", but to a whole person. Since Mary gave birth to Christ, who is a Divine Person, she is rightly called "the Mother of God." Keep in mind that this doesn't mean that Mary somehow originated God, but that in her womb she bore the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.

    When this decision was pronounced in AD 431, the people of Ephesus rioted for joy, parading through the streets by torchlight, carrying all 200 bishops aloft on their shoulders, and chanting "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners!" which gives us the conclusion to the Hail Mary prayer.

    The Evolution of the Rosary
    As Christianity continued to spread, reaching out into the barbaric lands of the north, monastic orders carried culture and learning along with the faith. A major part of the monks' daily spiritual exercises was to recite all 150 Psalms. To aid them in keeping track, they often would employ knotted strings, to keep track of their prayers. The newly converted Christian people of the European nations where the monasteries were established admired the monks' devotion and desired to imitate it--but since most of them still could not read, let alone memorise, all 150 Psalms, the monks told them that they could substitute 150 other prayers in their place. The most common prayers chosen were the Our Father or the Hail Mary. In fact, there was a street in Ireland where strings of 150 beads were manufactured for this very purpose, of assisting the peasants in their devotions--and it was named "Paternoster Row" after their recitation of 150 Our Fathers (Pater Noster in Latin). The development of the Rosary was well on its way. But, as St. Louis de Montfort points out,
    it was only in the year 1214, however, that Holy Mother Church received the Rosary in its present form and according to the method we use today. It was given to the Church by Saint Dominic who had received it from the Blessed Virgin as a powerful means of converting the Albigensians and other sinners.
    The Albigensians were a heretical group who taught the existence of two equal and opposite powers in the universe--one Good and the other Evil. Both of these powers had a hand in creating mankind, and so mankind was a walking contradiction--a Good soul trapped within an Evil body. For the Albigensians, the most triumphant way to liberate the soul from the body was through suicide--usually by self-starvation, which they referred to as the endura. This heretical cult gained much popularity in the 11th and 12th centuries in the south of France, and its rigid morality attracted many people who were disillusioned with Catholicism because of the corruption of the clergy rampant at that time.

    St. Dominic Receives the Rosary from the Blessed Virgin
    When Saint Dominic visited France, he saw on the one hand this terrible heresy gaining ground everywhere, and on the other, he saw the immorality in the Church as the reason behind it. He tried to preach repentance, both to the sinful Catholics and to the heretical Albigenses, but was getting nowhere. Frustrated by his failed attempts, he made a three day retreat in the wilderness, praying for help in fighting this huge problem, and doing nothing but weep and perform sharp penances for the Church. It was on this retreat that the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Dominic, accompanied by three angels, and she said to him, "Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants you to use to reform the world?" Dominic replied, "Oh, my Lady, you know far better than I do because next to your Son Jesus Christ you have always been the chief instrument of our salvation." Mary replied to him, "I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter which is the foundation stone of the New Testament. Therefore if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter."

    From that time on, St. Dominic preached the Rosary--how to pray it devoutly, how to meditate on its mysteries, and in so doing, how to give greater honour to Jesus and to Mary. Many miracles were worked by Saint Dominic in confirmation of his testimony to the power of the Rosary, one of which I will recount at length, quoting again from St. Louis de Montfort's book:

    When Saint Dominic was preaching the Rosary near Carcassone an Albigensian was brought to him who was possessed by the devil. Saint Dominic exorcised him in the presence of a great crowd of people; it appears that over 12 thousand had come to hear him preach. The devils who were in possession of this wretched man were forced to answer St. Dominic's questions in spite of themselves. They said that:
    1. There were fifteen thousand of them in the body of this poor man, because he had attacked the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary;
    2. They went on to testify that by preaching the Rosary he put fear and horror into the very depths of hell and that he was the man they hated most throughout the whole world, because of the souls which he snatched from them through devotion to the Holy Rosary;
    3. Then they revealed several other things.
    Saint Dominic put his rosary around the Albigensian's neck and asked the devils to tell him who, of all the saints in heaven, was the one they feared the most, and who should therefore be the most loved and revered by men. At this they let out such unearthly screams that most of the people fell to the ground, faint from fear. Then, using all their cunning, so as not to answer, the devils wept and wailed in such a pitiful way that many of the people wept also, out of purely natural pity. The devils spoke through the mouth of the Albigensian, pleading in a heartrending voice:

    "Dominic, Dominic, have mercy on us--we promise you that we will never hurt you. You have always had compassion for sinners and those in distress; have pity on us, for we are in grievous straits. We are suffering so very much already, so why do you delight in heightening our pains? Can't you be satisfied with our suffering without adding to it? Have pity on us! Have pity on us!"

    Saint Dominic was not one whit moved by the pathos of these wretched spirits and told them that he would not let them alone until they had answered his question. Then they said they would whisper the answer in such a way that only Saint Dominic would be able to hear. The latter firmly insisted upon their answering clearly and out loud. Then the devils kept quiet and refused to say another word, completely disregarding Saint Dominic's orders--so he knelt down and prayed thus to Our Lady: "Oh, all powerful and wonderful Virgin Mary, I implore you by the power of the Most Holy Rosary, order these enemies of the human race to answer me."

    No sooner had he made this prayer than a glowing flame leapt out of the ears, nostrils and mouth of the Albigensian. Everyone shook with fear, but the fire did not hurt anyone. Then the devils cried:

    "Dominic, we beseech you, by the passion of Jesus Christ and by the merits of His Holy Mother and of all the saints, let us leave the body of this man without speaking further--for the angels will answer your question whenever you wish. After all, are we not liars? So why should you want to believe us? Please don't torture us any more; have pity on us."

    "Woe unto you wretched spirits, who do not deserve to be heard," Saint Dominic said, and kneeling down he prayed to Our Lady:

    "Oh most worth Mother of Wisdom, I am praying for the people assembled here who have already learned how to say the Angelic Salutation properly. Please, I beg of you, force your enemies to proclaim the whole truth and nothing but the truth about this, here and now, before the multitude."

    Saint Dominic had hardly finished this prayer when he saw the Blessed Virgin near at hand, surrounded by a multitude of angels. She struck the possessed man with a golden rod that she held and said: "Answer my servant Dominic at once." (Remember, the people neither saw nor heard Our Lady, but only Saint Dominic.) Then the devils started screaming:

    "Oh you who are our enemy, our downfall and our destruction, why have you come from heaven just to torture us so grievously? O Advocate of sinners, you who snatch them from the very jaws of hell, you who are the very sure path to heaven, must we, in spite of ourselves, tell the whole truth and confess before everyone who it is who is the cause of our shame and our ruin? Oh woe unto us, princes of darkness:

    "Then listen well, you Christians: the Mother of Jesus Christ is all-powerful and she can save her servants from falling into hell. She is the Sun which destroys the darkness of our wiles and subtlety. It is she who uncovers our hidden plots, breaks our snares and makes our temptations useless and ineffectual.

    "We have to say, however reluctantly, that not a single soul who has really persevered in her service has ever been damned with us; one single sigh that she offers to the Blessed Trinity is worth far more than all the prayers, desires and aspirations of all the saints.

    "We fear her more than all the other saints in heaven together and we have no success with her faithful servants. Many Christians who call upon her when they are at the hour of death and who really ought to be damned according to our ordinary standards are saved by her intercession.

    "Oh if only that Mary (it is thus in their fury that they called her) had not pitted her strength against ours and had not upset our plans, we should have conquered the Church and should have destroyed it long before this: and we would have seen to it that all the Orders in the Church fell into error and disorder.

    "Now that we are forced to speak we must also tell you this: nobody who perseveres in saying the Rosary will be damned, because she obtains for her servants the grace of true contrition for their sins and by means of this they obtain God's forgiveness and mercy."

    Then Saint Dominic had them all say the Rosary very slowly and with great devotion, and a wonderful thing happened: at each Hail Mary that he and the people said together a large group of devils issued forth from the wretched man's body under the guise of red-hot coals.

    When the devils had all been expelled and the heretic was at last entirely free of them, Our Lady (who was still invisible) gave her blessing to the assembled company, and they were filled with joy because of this.

    A large number of heretics were converted because of this miracle and joined the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary. (The Secret of the Rosary, pp.76-79.)
    Unfortunately, the fervent devotion to the Rosary inspired by St. Dominic's preaching only lasted for a century, and then died out to the point of being nearly forgotten. St. Louis de Montfort cites this neglect of devotion to Christ and Our Lady as the reason for the disasters that befell Europe in that time: namely, the Black Plague in 1349 and the rapid succession of heresy and schism in the Church.


    Grignon, St. Louis-Marie, de Montfort. The Secret of the Rosary. (Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1991.) [Beyond what was directly cited, this work provided the information for much of the general history of the Rosary's development, as well as the bulk of information regarding St. Dominic.]

    Hahn, Dr. Scott. Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God. (New York: Doubleday, 2001). [Beyond what was directly cited, this work was a source of much information on the development of the Rosary and early Christian Mariology--particularly about the Council of Ephesus.]

    Johnson, Dr. Kevin Orlin, Ph.D. Why Do Catholics Do That?: A Guide to the Teachings and Practices of the Catholic Church. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994) [This was also a great source for the history and development of the Rosary.]

    Why Yes, I Do Believe Something, Actually ( [My source for the text of the Sub Tuum Praesidium.]

    (Category: Catholic Distinctives: Mary, Mother of God.
    Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.
    The Church: Christian History)