On the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

While I have not made any progress in my study of the Catechism, I have been using an online resource for my morning prayers, a Catholic website called DivineOffice.org. Today is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In good Protestant fashion, I am leary of “mariolatry.” But the entire set of readings and prayers are God-focused and Christ-centered, even while they recognize the virtue of Mary as a prototype of Christian faith and fruitfulness. Here are the words of the hymn that was sung:

Virgin-born, we bow before thee:
blessed was the womb that bore thee;
Mary, Mother meek and mild,
blessed was she in her Child.
Blessed was the breast that fed thee;
blessed was the hand that led thee;
blessed was the parent’s eye
that watched thy slumbering infancy.

Blessed she by all creation,
who brought forth the world’s salvation,
and blessed they, for ever blest,
who love thee most and serve thee best.
Virgin-born, we bow before thee;
blessed was the womb that bore thee;
Mary, Mother meek and mild,
blessed was she in her Child.

In addition to the several readings from the Psalms was a reading from a homily by the 7th century English monk, St. Bede. The title given the reading on the website is “Mary proclaims the greatness of the Lord working in her.” Notice the emphasis, which is squarely on Christ, Mary’s Lord and ours.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior. With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favors, bestowed unceasingly on the human race.

“When a man devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, he proclaims God’s greatness. His observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows that he has God’s power and greatness always at heart. His spirit rejoices in God his savior and delights in the mere recollection of his creator who gives him hope for eternal salvation.

“These words are often for all God’s creations, but especially for the Mother of God. She alone was chosen, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her savior, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.

“For the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the one whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for he fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.

“She did well to add: and holy is his name, to warn those who heard, and indeed all who would receive his words, that they must believe and call upon his name. For they too could share in everlasting holiness and true salvation according to the words of the prophet: and it will come to pass, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the name she spoke of earlier: and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

“Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy Church that we should sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation.”

No mariolatry here. Only a humble recognition of her example, which we are called to emulate, especially her full and free submission to God’s will, captured in her “Let it be with me as you have spoken.” (Luke 1:38). Indeed, let it be so.

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In the beginning . . .

This is the first installment of  the chronicle my study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This catechism was officially promulgated in 1997 by Pope John Paul II. According to the description of the Logos electronic version, which I am using, this is “the first ‘universal’ Catholic catechism since the Reformation, and only the second one in history.” That is remarkable in itself, given how many doctrinal statements Protestantism has produced in the last nearly 600 years. I do not know where this study will take me. I am open. Let it be.

First observation: Evangelical sentiments should be pleased with the following words found in the introduction of the Catechism. After describing the four-fold division of the Catechism (Creed, Sacred Liturgy, Christian way of life, Christian prayer), we read:

In reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church we can perceive the wonderful unity of the mystery of God, his saving will, as well as the central place of Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, sent by the Father, made man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be our Savior. Having died and risen, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in the sacraments; he is the source of our faith, the model of Christian conduct, and the Teacher of our prayer.

Note the emphasis upon the centrality of Christ; there is no confusing the significance of Mary with that of Jesus.

Second observation: Lest we think that Catholicism is a religion of salvation by works, we find this:

Grace, the fruit of the sacraments, is the irreplaceable condition for Christian living, just as participation in the Church’s Liturgy requires faith. If faith is not expressed in works, it is dead (cf. Jas 2:14–16) and cannot bear fruit unto eternal life.

Is this not an echo of the biblical witness to the Christian way: we are saved by grace through a faith that is demonstrated by the way we live.

So far, so good.