“Mondays with Mary” – Mary in the Old Testament: The “Paradise of God” and “Closed Door,” “Gate of God,” “Gate of Heaven” (Part 5)

The term, “Paradise of God” in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary derives from the homilies of the eighth century Bishop of Constantinople, St. Germain. Traditionally in the Church, the term “paradise” is a Marian symbol closely associated with the Early Church Fathers, such as St. Leo the Great, St. Proclus, St. Andrew of Crete, St. John Damascene, and others, who developed it in their writings.

Since the trickery of the serpent and the sin committed by our first parents in the earthly paradise of Eden, resulting in a original sin (yesterday’s Gospel Reading in the Latin Rite), God, in his infinite mercy, desired to fully restore another earthly paradise through the redeeming work of the Incarnate Word. He (God) prepared the “paradise” of the virginal womb of Mary, in which, in the fullness off time (Gal 4:4) came the Divine Son.

In the Litany of Loreto, the Blessed Virgin Mary has been petitioned by the faithful to answer their intercessions as the “Gate of Heaven.” Mary’s immaculate and virginal womb brought forth Jesus Christ into the world, she then is truly the Gate of Heaven.

In the prophet Ezekiel (44:1-2), it references the mystery of the “closed door” which “shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut.” The most accurate and detailed scriptural exegetical study of this passage points out that this passage is in reference to Mary’s perfect and perpetual virginity – before, during, and ever childbirth. In Mary’s perpetual virginity, it’s a doorway that is always sealed and always to be closed.

 The image of the Virgin Mother and Infant Christ surrounded by flowers is from the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria.


The image of the Virgin Mother and Infant Christ surrounded by flowers is from the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria.

As Saint Ambrose said, “Christ has passed through it, but not opened it.” Pope St. John Paul II has said that Jesus did not violate Mary’s virginity, rather, he sanctified her virginity.

The elect enter into paradise through the “Gate of Heaven” – who is truly the Blessed Virgin Mary. Psalm 117:20 says, “This is the gate of the Lord, the just shall enter through it.” In the antiphon for the Gospel of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it says the following – “‘Gate of Heaven’: The gate of paradise, shut by the sin of Eve, has been reopened by you, O Virgin Mary.”

Next week we will continue our Old Testament Series in relation to the Blessed Virgin Mary as we examine Marian Symbols used in the Liturgy.

O Mary, as the Paradise of God and Gate of Heaven…Pray for Us. 

Source:

Burke, Raymond L., Stefano M. Manelli, Luigi Gambero, Manfred Hauke, Peter M. Fehlner, Arthur Burton. Calkins, Paul Haffner, Alessandro M. Apollonio, Edward P. Sri, Charles M. Mangan, Enrique Llamas Martínez, Neil J. Roy, Etienne Richer, Vladimir Zelinskiĩ, and Mark I. Miravalle. Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons. Goleta, CA: Queenship Pub, 2008. Print.

“Mondays with Mary” – The Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph

Although today’s feast day is no longer in the liturgical calendar of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, for many years, first beginning on October 22, 1517 and approved by Pope Leo X, the Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph was celebrated by many as the day that Our Lady and Saint Joseph were espoused together as a couple.

According to some of the light research I conducted last night, the Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary began when she was a young woman at the time prepared for her marriage. As tradition tells us, a few men came and to seek her hand in marriage, but all were rejected. She would be arranged to a simple and humble craftsman (worked with wood and stone) – we know this man today as Saint Joseph. He was known to be a just man of God, however, it seems he lacked the fortitude to ask for Mary’s hand. In the end, God’s Divine Providence and timing placed them together.

Mary was very happy to receive St. Joseph as her spouse. As we all know, she contained an incredible and blessed secret that was deep in her heart. As tradition also teaches us, as do the Early Church Fathers such as St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Gregory of Nyssa, Mary as a young girl made a vow of virginity in the temple (see my book, Understanding Catholic Teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary, pages 42-45). We also believe that Mary prayed for a holy man who would respect her vow and protect her virginity.

The Catholic Church believes and teaches that the marriage of Mary and St. Joseph was real. Each of them accepted the other as spouse, which included all of the mutual rights. I say in my aforementioned book, “The essence of marriage is the lifetime vow of fidelity to Christ. According to canon law, consent (the vows) is what makes it a marriage. The gift of body is the expression of the vow. Mary and Joseph are truly married because they give themselves as total gift to one another, but not bodily” (page 48).

Marriage of the Virgin - Raphael

Marriage of the Virgin – Raphael

The marriage of Mary and St. Joseph has served as a model for Christian marriages since their own marriage endured trials. We read in the Sacred Scriptures about the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-31) and the worries that St. Joseph analyzes on how to send her away quietly (Mt 1:18-19). However, as we know, God intervened by sending an angel to St. Joseph in a dream to reassure him that Mary’s virginity was intact and that the child she was carrying was of heavenly origin (Mt. 1:20-21).

Being the just, noble, and obedient man that he was, St. Joseph witnessed for himself the plan of God in his life and in the life of his spouse. He realized how faithful Mary truly was to not only God, but to him as well.

To learn more about the history of the feast, I would encourage you to read the Catholic Encyclopedia page on New Advent. For those who are even more daring, you can read St. Thomas Aquinas’ questioning from the Summa Theologica.

As we remember this day…

Let us pray for the many holy and faithful Catholic marriages that are producing great fruit in the Church.

Let us pray for those who may be struggling in their marriages – may Our Lady and St. Joseph intercede on behalf of their trials.

Let us pray for those Catholics that are not married in the Church – those who are unaware that their marriages are not valid – pray that they, through the intercession of Mary and St. Joseph will come to be in full communion again and Convalidate their secular marriage.

Let us pray for those couples preparing to enter the Sacrament of Matrimony in the days and month ahead.

O Mary, Perpetual Virgin…Pray for Us

Saint Joseph…Pray for Us

“Mondays with Mary” – 5 Quotes from Pope St. John Paul II on Mary as the Virgin of Virgins

In my book, Understanding Catholic Teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary (Emmaus Road Publishing), I open the chapter on the dogma of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity with this,

“The second dogma of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was defined by the Catholic Church is the dogma of Her Perpetual Virginity. Many of the Early Church Fathers, which we will see shortly, without question, understand and taught this dogma to be truth since the early days of the Church. It was also affirmed by papal and council documents.

The Perpetual Virgin dogma of the Blessed Virgin Mary professes that she was a virgin before the birth of Christ (ante partum), during the birth of Christ (in partu), and after the birth of Christ (post partum). This dogma was declared at the Lateran Synod in 649 A.D. by Pope Saint Martin I. As an article of the faith, the Holy Father professed, ‘The blessed ever-virginal and immaculate Mary conceived, without seed, by the Holy Spirit, and without the loss of integrity brought Him forth, and after His birth preserved her virginity inviolate.'”

Sassoferrato - Virgin Mother

Sassoferrato – Virgin Mother

Since Wednesday, April 13, is the optional memorial for Pope St. Martin I, I thought I would focus on Mary as the Virgin of All Virgins, since it was he who took the doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity and solidified it as a dogma of the Church.

In order to see Mary’s importance as the Virgin of Virgins, we are going to draw from another Saint Pope – John Paul II. His love for Christ, Our Lady, and the Catholic Church was magnificent to witness. Here are five quotes from the 20th century Polish Pope and Saint –

1. “She [Mary] it was whom Paul VI presented as the Virgin who listens, the Virgin who prays, the Virgin who begets Christ and offers him for the salvation of the world. May she be your guide along the sometimes difficult but always exhilarating path toward the ideal of complete union with Christ.”

2. “St. Ambrose draws for us the portrait of our Lady, with extraordinary and realistic delicacy, as follows: ‘She was a virgin not only in body, but also in soul; completely lacking in any deceitfulness that stains the sincerity of the spirit; humble in heart; serious in speech; prudent in thought; sparing in words…She put her hope, not in the uncertainty of riches, but in the poor man’s prayer. She was always hard-working, reserved in talk, accustomed to seek God…as judge of her conscience. She did not offend anyone, she loved everyone…she shunned ostentation, followed reason, loved virtue…This is the image of virginity. So perfect was Mary, that her life alone is a rule for everyone.’ (De Virginibus II, 2, 6-7: PL 16, pp. 208-210).”

3. “It is the Virgin Mary who invites us to consider history as an adventure of love in which God keeps his promises and triumphs with his fidelity. A history is which God asks us, as he asked the Virgin, to be his associates, his collaborators, in order to carry out his plan of salvation from generation to generation. This requires that we respond to God, like Mary, with a total and irrevocable ‘fiat.’”

4. “Mary knew that she was to fulfill her virginal desire to give herself exclusively and fully to God precisely by becoming the Mother of God’s Son. Become a Mother by the power of the Holy Spirit was the form taken by her gift of self: a form which God himself expected of the Virgin Mary, who was ‘betrothed’ to Joseph was part of the very plan of God.”

5. “For the kingdom, it is worth living this precious value of Christianity, priestly celibacy, the centuries old-heritage of the Church: it is worth living it in a responsible way, although it calls for a good many sacrifices. Cultivate devotion to Mary, the Virgin Mother of the Son of God, so that she may help you and urge you to carry it out fully.”

Our Lady, Virgin of all Virgins…Pray For Us.

“Mondays with Mary” – St. Ambrose of Milan and Western Marian Doctrine

Since today is the feast of Saint Ambrose, Patron of the Veneration of Mary, I thought it was a good day to share with you some of St. Ambrose’s writings when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In his writings, we see some of the first significant Marian doctrine to penetrate Christianity in the West. Not only did he write a lot on the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the quality also is quite enlightening. Although he did not begin to study Theology until he was elected Bishop of Milan (see today’s post above), his studies in general on the faith and on Mary’s role in Salvation History used both lungs, both the East and West. He took to the Eastern traditions to learn about Mary because so much of what we have in regards to her role comes originally from the East.

For Saint Ambrose, his Marian teachings stem from Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. He was astounded by how she consecrated herself to God. It is from here that all his writings develop. Below are some excerpts from his different writings focusing on Mary.

Writing a letter to his sister, St. Marcellina, who took a vow of virginity herself, says,

“The first impulse to learn in inspired by the nobility of the teacher. Now, who could be nobler than the Mother of God? Who more splendid than she, whom Splendor chose? Who more chaste than she, who gave birth to a body without bodily contact? What should I say, then, about all her other virtues? She was a virgin, not only in body but in her mind as well, and never mixed the sincerity of her affections with duplicity. – De virginibus

Focusing on Isaiah 7:14, Saint Ambrose says,

“Such an incredible and unheard-of birth needed to be announced to her before it could be believed. A virgin giving birth is the sign of a divine mystery, not a human one. And so he says, ‘Let this be a sign for you: Behold, the virgin shall conceive in her womb and bear a son’ (Isaiah 7:14). Mary had read this passage; therefore, she believed that the prophecy would come true, but she could not have read about how it would happen.” Expositio in Lucam

He took on not only the Arians (Jesus is a demigod like Thor) but also Docetism (Jesus was a phantom/ghost). Answering them and saying that Jesus was truly human and born of a human mother, he says,

“He is the Son of man because the Virgin is a human creature. That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of a human being is called man.” – Enarratio in Psalmum

“Christ assumed, not some thing resembling flesh, but the reality of our flesh: a true body.” – De sacramentis

“What was the reason for the Incarnation? It has to be this: the flesh that had sinned had to be redeemed by the same flesh.” – De Incarnationis dominical sacramento 

Sassoferrato – Virgin Mother

Saint Ambrose believed that Mary was an extraordinary woman. About Mary at the Annunciation, he says,

“She does not appear to have doubted the event but asked how it would take place. Clearly, if she asked it would happen, she must have believed in its fulfillment. Thus she merited to hear the words, ‘Blessed are you, because you have believed’ (Lk. 1:45).” – Expositio in Lucam

At the foot of the Cross, St. Ambrose says that Mary shows great fortitude, especially with the Apostles scattered,

“His mother stood before the Cross, and, while the men fled, she remained undaunted…She did not fear the torturers…His Mother offered herself to his persecutors.” – De institutione virginis

St. Ambrose is the first early Church Father to align Mary with the Church; he calls her a type of the Church, he says,

“Well [does the Gospel say]: married but a virgin; because she is the type of the Church, which is also married but remains immaculate. The Virgin [Church] conceived us by the Holy Spirit and, as a virgin, gave birth to us without pain. And perhaps this is why holy Mary, married to one man [Joseph], is made fruitful by another [the Holy Spirit], to show that the individual churches are filled with the Spirit and with grace, even as they are united to the person of a temporal priest.” – Expositio in Lucam

As we begin this week, let us always remember the great saints of the past that fought with great conviction through rhetoric to defend the Incarnation and the role of Mary in the Church. Pray for those individuals that deny her role and importance in the Life of Christ. Pray for all Bishops, that they, like St. Ambrose, can have the fortitude and strength to provide us solid orthodox teachings.

Source:

Gambero, Luigi. Mary and the Fathers of the Church. Ignatius Press, 1999.

 

 

 

“Mondays with Mary” – ‘Mary, Joseph’s Virginal Spouse’

Since this upcoming Wednesday is the optional memorial of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, the Doctor of Catechesis and Thursday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I found it fitting to give you some catechesis from St. Cyril of Jerusalem talking about Mary as St. Joseph’s Virginal Spouse. The Catholic Church declared the doctrine known as the Mary’s Perpetual Virginity solemn in 649 A.D by Pope St. Martin I at the Lateran Synod.

The Perpetual Virgin dogma of the Blessed Virgin Mary professes that She was a virgin before the birth of Christ (ante partum), during the birth of Christ (in partu), and after the birth of Christ (post partum). This is a very important teaching of the Catholic Church in its Marian Theology. Even the Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Ulrich Zwingli believed in Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.

Now let us turn to the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem who speaks with elegance on Mary’s virginity –

“Let us reject those who say that the Savior’s birth was the accomplishment of a man and a woman; those who dare to say that he was born of Joseph and Mary, solely because it was written” ‘And he took [her as] his wife’ (Mt 1:24). Let us remember Jacob, who before taking Rachel, said to Laban: ‘Give me my wife’ (Gen 29:21). Just as she was called Jacob’s wife before the marriage celebration solely because promises had been exchanged, so also Mary was called Joseph’s wife, because she was betrothed.

Sassoferrato - Virgin Mother

Note how precise the Gospel is when it says: ‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God, to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph’ (Lk 1:26-27), and so forth. Again, when the census was taken and Joseph had to enroll himself, what does Scripture say? ‘Then Joseph went up from Galilee also, to register together with Mary, his betrothed spouse, who was with child’ (Lk 2:4-5). And even though Mary was with child, it does not say, ‘his wife’, but his ‘betrothed spouse”. Indeed, God – says Paul – sent his Son, not born of a man and a woman, but of a woman (cf. Gal 4:4) only, that is, of a virgin. We have shown that a virgin is called a woman. For from a Virgin was born the One who makes souls virgins.

You marvel at what has happened. Did she not also marvel who gave him birth, seeing that she said to Gabriel: ‘How will this happen since I do not know man?’ (Lk 1:34). But he answered: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow; hence, the holy Child to be born will be Son of God (Lk 1:35).

Pure and spotless is this birth. For where the Holy Spirit breathes, all pollution is taken away, so that the human birth of the Only-begotten from the Virgin is undefiled.

If, then, the heretics speak against the truth, the Holy Spirit himself will convict them; against them will rise the anger of the overshadowing power of the Most High and, in the Day of Judgment, Gabriel will rise up against them with severity; the manger that held the Lord will reprove them. The shepherds who received the glad tidings, the host of angels who sang praises and hymns saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will’ (Lk 2:13-14), the temple into which he was brought after forty days, the pair of turtle doves offered for him, Simeon who took him in his arms and the prophetess Anna who was present there: they will all bear witness against the heretics (Catecheses 12, 31-32).

“Mondays with Mary” – The Marian Thought of St. Hilary of Poitiers

Since tomorrow is the feast day of St. Hilary of Poitiers – The Athanasius of the West, I found it fitting to explain his Marian Thought as well as to provide you with an excerpt of his writings of his work, De Trinitate, on ‘Mary in the Economy of Salvation.’ For more on his life and other Doctors of the Church, I encourage you to read my series on them here.

Like most of the Early Church Fathers, St. Hilary had a great devotion and theological understanding to the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Hilary, the reason he sees Mary as the great Mother of Our Lord and the most dominant religious figure in the early Church is because of her glorious virginity. He believes that Mary’s role in Salvation History is unique to her, but always subordinate to the role of Jesus Christ. However, for Hilary, Mary’s role is supremely important for she appears with Christ in the prophesies that speak of the coming of the Messiah in the Old Testament scriptures.

Focusing on Mary’s Virginity, St. Hilary teaches that this experience for the Mother of God as Virgin must have been so inspirational and overpowering that nothing short of her life as a perpetual virgin would suffice. For Mary, there was never any thought that she would enter into the conjugal embrace with her husband. St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine of Hippo both write on how more than likely Mary took a vow of virginity in the Temple as a young girl.

Mary’s Motherhood, which would be declared dogmatic at the Council of Ephesus in 422, was not a problem for St. Hilary either. He understood well that Mary as Virgin would assist in the work of redemption, but always remaining subordinate to her Son. Hilary knew that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ had an impact on the salvation of humanity. Mary becomes the model of redeemed humanity when she graciously accepts, without reservation, and with unconditional faith, the infinite gift of salvation from God at the Annunciation.

Sassoferrato - Virgin Mother

For St. Hilary, defending Mary’s Virginity was at the forefront of his Marian theology because of the other arguments that contradicted this teaching during his lifetime. He understood the importance of Mary’s Virginity – before, during, and after the birth of Christ. Although it would not be declared dogmatic until 649 by Pope St. Martin I, Mary’s Perpetual Virginity was taught, believed, and professed by him and other Early Church Fathers.

Now that you understand St. Hilary’s Marian Thought, let’s take a look at ‘Mary in the Economy of Salvation’ from his document, De Trinitate

Other witnesses explicitly affirm that the economy of salvation proceeds from the Father’s will. The Virgin, the birth and body [of Christ], and, in turn, the Cross, death, and descent among the dead constitute our salvation. For the Son of God was born of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit for the sake of the human race.

In so doing, he places himself at his own service and, overshadowing the Virgin with his power (that is, with the power of God), he planted the initial seed of his body and set up the beginning of his life in the flesh. In this way, having become man in his birth from the Virgin, he took upon himself the nature of human flesh so that, through this commingling, the body of the whole human race was sanctified in him (italics mine). And as all men have found in him their foundation, through his willingness to assume a bodily nature, so he was restored, in turn, to all men through his invisible existence. Thus the invisible image of God did not refuse the shame of being born in a human manner, passing through conception, birth, crying, cradle, and all the humiliations proper to our nature.

And we, with what worthy gift shall we respond to a love so full of benevolence? Behold the one, only begotten God, whose origin from God is absolutely inexpressible, planted like a seed in the womb of the holy Virgin, developing little by little, taking on the form of a tiny body.

He who contains who things, in whom through whom everything receives existence, behold he comes to light according to the human law of birth. He at whose voice archangels and angels tremble, at whose voice heaven, earth, and all the elements of this world are unraveled, hark, the sound of his newborn wailing! The Invisible and Ungraspable, before whom sight, senses, and touch proclaim their helplessness, wrapped up, in a cradle.

So on this day, let us give praise and thanksgiving for Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the blessing of His Incarnation. Let us joyfully give thanks to our Perpetual Virgin – Mary, the Great Mother of God. And, let us give thanks to the many Early Church Fathers, today, specifically, St. Hilary of Poitiers, who defended both Mary’s Virginity and Christ’s Incarnation with the words inspired by God.

Source:

Gambero, Luigi. Mary and the Fathers of the Church. Ignatius Press, 1999.

“Mondays with Mary” – ‘The Handmaid of the Lord’

Over the past three weeks, I have focused on variety of teachings underlining the Solemnity of the Annunciation. The first week we looked at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states about Mary’s Virginity; the second week focused on some of the Early Church Fathers teachings on the subject of Mary’s faith at the Annunciation; and last week we looked at the Annunciation through the theology of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

To conclude this short four-week series on the Annunciation, I give you five “words” focusing on Mary’s Fiat from the soon-to-be-saint, Pope John Paul II. As I have promised in other posts, as we get closer to his official canonization, which is less than one month away, I will write more about him and the theology he wrote for the Catholic Church during his twenty-six pontificate.

Redemptoris Mater, 28 –

“In the faith which Mary professed at the Annunciation as the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ and in which she constantly ‘precedes’ the pilgrim People of God throughout the earth, the Church ‘strives energetically and constantly to bring all humanity…back to Christ its head in the unity of his Spirit.’”

Address in Rome, July 13, 1994 –

“The whole ecclesial movement of women can and should reflect the light of Gospel revelation, according to which a woman, as the representative of the human race, was called to give her consent to the Incarnation of the Word. It is the account of the Annunciation that suggests this truth when it tells that only after the ‘fiat’ of Mary, who consented to be the Mother of the Messiah, did ‘the angel depart from her’ (Lk. 1:38). The angel had completed his mission: he could bring to God humanity’s ‘yes’,’ spoken by Mary of Nazareth.”

The Annunciation - Henry Ossawa Tanner

The Annunciation – Henry Ossawa Tanner

Insegnamenti, March 19, 1982 –

“The Blessed Virgin intoned the Magnificat, knowing that to accomplish the plan of salvation for all mankind, the Lord willed to bring her, a simple maiden of his people, into association with it. We are here to intone our Magnificat, after the example of Mary, knowing that we have been summoned by God to a service of redemption and salvation, in spite of our inadequacy.”

Address in Rome, June 18, 1979 –

“And in the moments of weariness raise your eyes to Mary, the Virgin who, forgetting herself, set out ‘with haste’ for the hills to reach her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was in need of help and assistance (cf. Lk. 1:39ff). Let her be the inspiration of your daily dedication to duty; let her suggest to you the right words and opportune gestures at the bedside of the sick; let her comfort you in misunderstandings and failures, hoping you always keep a smile on your face and hope in your heart.”

Mulieris Dignitatem, 5 –

“When Mary responds to the words of the heavenly messenger with her ‘fiat’, she who is ‘full of grace’ feels the need to express her personal relationship to the gift that has been revealed to her, saying: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord’ (Lk 1:38). This statement should not be deprived of its profound meaning, nor should it be diminished by artificially removing it from the overall context of the event and from the full content of the truth revealed about God and man. In the expression ‘handmaid of the Lord’, one senses Mary’s complete awareness of being a creature of God. The word ‘handmaid’, near the end of the Annunciation dialogue, is inscribed throughout the whole history of the Mother and the Son. In fact, this Son, who is the true and consubstantial ‘Son of the Most High’, will often say of himself, especially at the culminating moment of his mission: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve’ (Mk 10:45).”

As always, let us keep in our hearts and minds, Mary’s Fiat, her Yes to God. Let us always be prepared in our hearts to say YES to God just as our Blessed Virgin Mary did at the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel visited her.