Tag Archives: Mary

Feast of the Birth of Mary (September 8)

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Anne, Jerusalem

From the 4th century the Emperor Constantine and his successors built churches over important biblical sites in the Holy Land. One of the churches was built near the ancient pool of Bethesda, just north of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

John’s gospel pointed out the place:  “Now there was in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate, a pool in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of the blind, lame and crippled,”  (John 5,2) Jesus healed a paralyzed man at this healing place, where pagan gods  like Asclepius and Serapis were honored.

The church over the ancient healing pool became associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus, early on. Traditions from the 3rd century placed her home in this area of Jerusalem, and so Mary’s birth and early life came to be remembered here. By the 5th century, Mary’s birth was celebrated here and Christian pilgrims, returning home, celebrated the feast of her birth in their own churches September 8.

Barnett - 771
Ruins of Bethesda and ancient church
Paralytic

In the last century archeologists uncovered the ancient healing pool with its porticoes, parts of an ancient church and ruins of a temple of Asclepius (2nd-4th century) ..

Jerusaelm streets
Ruins of the Temple of Serapis
Barnett - 781

Early Christian traditions from the 3rd century placed Mary’s home in this area of Jerusalem, and so Mary’s birth and early life came to be remembered here.

Mary’s mother was Anne and her father Joachim, who provided sheep for the temple sacrifices, the early traditions said. But they were looked down upon, because they were old and childless. Then, angels told them they were to conceive a daughter. Their faith, like that of Abraham and Sarah, was miraculously rewarded.

The stories of the birth of Mary and her childhood strongly influenced the spirituality and devotional life of all the early Christian churches of the east and west, which celebrate this feast together today September 8 . Her parents are honored  September 9 by the Greek Church. The Roman Church celebrates their feast July 26th.

When the Crusaders conquered the Holy Land in the 11th century, they rebuilt the small church over the healing pool, fallen into ruins, and built a new, larger church honoring St. Anne, the mother of Mary, southeast of the pool.

The present Church of St. Ann, today one of the most beautiful of Jerusalem’s churches, stands overlooking the remains of the old church and the healing pool,  a favorite destination for pilgrims.

Readings for the feast of Mary’s Birth see her birth awaited by all her ancestors. The gospel, St.Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, begins with Abraham. Mary fulfilled his hopes and the hopes of generations before him by bringing Jesus Christ into the world.. “We commemorate the birth of the blessed Virgin Mary, a descendant of Abraham, born of the tribe of Judah and of David’s seed,” (Antiphon, 1st Vespers, Roman rite)

“This feast of the birth of the Mother of God is the prelude, while the final act is the foreordained union of the Word with flesh. Today, the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages…
Today the created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”
(St. Andrew of Crete, bishop, Office of Readings, Roman rite)

This feast of Mary is the first great feast in the calendar of the Orthodox Church, which begins in September. Their calendar begins with Mary’s birth and ends with the feast of her Dormition, on August 15th.

The Orthodox liturgy sees Mary as the mysterious ladder that Jacob saw in a dream reaching from earth to heaven. (Genesis 28,10-17) She is the way the Word comes down to earth’s lowest point, death itself, and returns to heaven having redeemed humanity. The Orthodox liturgy also associates  Mary with the miracle of the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. She has a role in healing our paralyzed humanity.

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary”
A reflection on Song of Songs 6:10
Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Midmorning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Read more of this post

The Queenship of Mary

800px-Fra_Angelico_038

“Christians live from feast to feast,” St. Athanasius said. The church’s feasts are linked to each other through the year, and all are linked to the great feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.

The feasts of Mary follow the pattern of the feasts of her Son, who associated her with his saving work. As we do with the feasts of Jesus Christ, we follow Mary’s feasts through the year. We learn the mysteries of God little by little, year by year.

She was blessed from her conception. ( Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8). We celebrate her birth 9 month later. (The Nativity of Mary, September 7). Her death and assumption into heaven are celebrated Augustus 15th. The Feast of the Queenship of Mary, August 22, is part of the mystery of her assumption into heaven. Introduced into the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church in 1955, the feast celebrates the privileged place of Mary in heaven. She “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things.” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 59)

Royal titles were commonly given to God and those anointed by God in the Old Testament; Christianity continued the pratice, giving royal titles to Jesus and Mary. She is called queen in traditional Christian prayers like the Hail Holy Queen (Salve regina) and Queen of Heaven (Regina Coeli):

“Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in the valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show to us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Mary is a queen, but also a mother. She is the Mother of God, Mother of Jesus Christ, Mother of us all, the New Eve, given to us by her Son from the Cross through his disciple John.

Mary knows her greatness is from her Lord, as she acknowledges in her Magnificat:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. He who is mighty has done great things to me; holy is his name.” ( Luke 1:46-55)

Fra Angelico captures Mary’s humility in his portrayal of her (above), bowing before her Son, her hands closed in prayer. The saints below her know that honors given to her are a reflection of the graces promised to humanity.

“Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

Blessing Herbs, Medicines and Fields: August 15th

In medieval times medicinal herbs were blessed on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, especially in Northern Europe. The fields were also blessed that day asking God to make them fertile the next year.

At the end of the Mass for the feast, herbs were brought into the church or to a holy well and were sprinkled with water, while prayers were said thanking God for the gifts of creation. The herbs were then brought home and a sprig was placed on the wall where children slept, asking God to keep the children strong and healthy.

Why were herbs and fields blessed on the Feast of the Assumption? Mary is often identified with flowers; she’s the “flower of the field and the lily of the valley”;  she brought life and the “living water” Jesus Christ into the world.

I can remember as a kid being told on the Feast of the Assumption to go into the water (in those days  the Newark Bay, polluted waters now). There’s a cure in the water, my mother told me. Others I know remember being told the same thing. I’m sure my mother was following the ancient custom.

It’s a custom we could benefit from today, isn’t it? We’re connected to creation. Most of our medicines come from plants. What we eat comes from the soil. Let’s bless herbs and medicines and fields and our gardens with holy water on the Feast of the Assumption. Maybe also put a sprig over a child’s bed (or our own). We need customs to reinforce our creation connection.

I’m hoping we might bring some holy water to our Mary Garden after the 11 AM Mass on August 15th.

One, Two, Three… Return to Trinity!

“One, Two, Three… Return to Trinity!”
A reflection on Matthew 19:3-12
Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Matthew 19:3-12

Read more of this post

St.Mary Major

Basilica of St. Mary Major
Basilica of St. Mary Major

On the summit of the Esquiline Hill, a short distance from the Lateran Basilica, the church of St. Mary Major was begun in the early 5th century and completed by Pope Sixtus III (432-440.)

Hardly a good time to build a church. In 410, Alaric and his Goths shocked the Roman world by sacking a city all thought invincible. In 455 the Vandals under Genseric vandalized Rome. Twice more in the century other barbarian tribes invaded.

The English historian Edward Gibbon called this period a time of decline and fall. In far off Palestine St. Jerome cried out in disbelief at Rome’s misfortunes. In Africa St. Augustine replied to the followers of Rome’s traditional religions, who said Christian weakness caused the city’s devastation, by writing his treatise “The City of God.”

Christians were not the cause the city’s misfortunes, the saint said; two loves are at work in the world building two cities. One love builds an evil city; Christianity builds the City of God, promoting love and justice, even in hard times .

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is honored in this church.  In 431, the Council  of Ephesus repudiated Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, for refusing to call her “Mother of God.” The title safeguarded Christian belief in the mystery of the Incarnation: Jesus is God and man, the council said. The Christian world saw Mary as a defender of Jesus, her son, who was both human and divine.

Devotion to Mary ran high in the Christian world after the council, and churches dedicated to her arose everywhere. In the city of Constantinople alone, 250 churches and shrines in her honor were built before the 8th century. Pictures, icons of Mary holding her divine child multiplied, especially in churches of the East, where they became objects of special devotion.

Mary’s title, Mother of God, does not make her a goddess, otherwise how could she have given birth to Christ who is truly human? Yet, she can be called Mother of God, because Jesus who is truly her human son is truly Son of God from all eternity as well.

St. Mary Major was not built just as a doctrinal statement, however, it also shored up the spirits of frightened Christians who lived in dangerous times. On its walls stories from the Old and New Testaments called for courage and hope. God’s plan does not lead to decline and fall, they say, but to triumph in Christ.

In this church, Mary is Jesus’ mother and closest disciple. This place is “a school of Mary” – to use a phrase of Pope John Paul II–who teaches the mysteries she has learned.

She is a leading figure in the sacred stories depicted here and is joined by a noticeable number of women from the Old and New Testaments who like her seem powerless, but are empowered by God.

The great 13th century mosaic in the church’s apse of Mary crowned by Jesus Christ as heaven’s queen proclaims God’s triumph in her, but also his triumph in the church as well. She is taken up to heaven “to be the beginning and pattern of the church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.” (Preface of the Assumption)

It shouldn’t surprise us that many of the mysteries in which Mary had a special role were first celebrated  here as liturgical feasts. The Christmas liturgy, especially the midnight Mass on December 25th ,  began in this church  in the 5th century and spread to other churches of the west. Early on, a replica of the cave under the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, was constructed here. After the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land in the 7th century,  Christian refugees placed relics here purported to be from the crib that bore the Christ Child and relics of St.Matthew, an evangelist who told the story of Jesus birth.

Besides the Christmas liturgy, other great Marian feasts, such as her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, developed their liturgical forms in this church.

Built on a hill where all could see it, near Rome’s eastern walls so often threatened by barbarian armies, St. Mary Major affirms Christianity’s ultimate answer to its enemies. It is not military might, but the power of faith and love that triumphs in the end.

Visiting St.Mary Major

The church’s 18th century façade was built by the popes to enhance the appearance of this  important church at a time when many visitors, especially  from England and Germany, were traveling to Rome on the Grand Tour to visit its classical and religious sites.

The church’s interior, with its splendid 5th century mosaics along the upper part of the nave, retains its original form better than any other of the major basilicas of Rome.

The Sistine Chapel at the right hand side of the nave was built to house a silver reliquary with relics of the crib brought from the Holy Land in the 8th century. Two popes, Sixtus V and Pius V are buried there.

The Borghese Chapel at the left hand side of the nave honors the ancient icon of the Virgin and Child,”Salus populist Romani”, that Roman Christians have reverenced for centuries. A reproduction of the icon is a nice remembrance to bring home.

The magnificent 13th century mosaic in the apse of the basilica presents the Coronation of Mary in heaven. It’s surrounded by 5th century mosaics depicting scenes from the birth of Jesus and the life of Mary.

Website:

http://www.vatican.va/various/sm_maggiore/index_en.html

Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus

“Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus”
John 11:19-27 in a couplet
Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

John 11:19-27

Traditions about St. Ann

As one might expect, a saint like Saint Ann has a rich history in the Christian church. She’s honored from earliest times in the eastern churches as the mother of Mary.

Around the year 550, a church in her honor was built in Jerusalem on the site where her home was said to be, near the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus cured the paralyzed man. Since then, many churches honoring her have been built throughout the world and she appears frequently in Christian art.

Feasts of St.Ann

Feasts in honor of Mary’s birth (September 8) and her presentation in the temple (November 21) – inspired by the Protoevangelium- were introduced into the liturgies of the Eastern churches in the 6th century. Feasts in honor of St.Joachim and Ann (September 9), the conception of St.Ann (December 9), and St.Ann alone (July 26) have been celebrated from the 7th century in the Greek and Russian churches. In the western church, the feast of St.Ann has been celebrated on July 26 since the 16th century.

Why was the story of Ann and Joachim so popular in the Eastern Christian churches, first of all?  For one thing, Christians on pilgrimage to the holy land wanted to know as much as possible about the earthly life of Jesus and Mary and so stories about Ann and Joachim satisfied their curiosity.

Her story also supplied information about the family background of Mary and Jesus, which supported the traditional belief that Jesus is Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary.  Early on, these beliefs were  questioned by heretical elements within Christianity as well as by outsiders hostile to the faith.

Finally, and just as important, Ann and Joachim offered inspiration to mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, grandmothers and grandfathers –to live their lives in their circumstances of family life.

Devotion to St. Ann in Europe

In the western churches, devotion to St.Ann was fed by a popular belief that relics of her were brought to France by Mary Magdalen, Lazarus, Martha, and other friends of Jesus who crossed the stormy sea from Palestine to bring the Christian faith to the region around Marseilles.

Her relics were buried in a cave under the church of St.Mary in the city of Apt by its bishop, St.Auspice, according to this story. But when barbarians invaded the area, the cave was filled with debris and almost forgotten, only to be unearthed 600 years later during the reign of Charlemagne.

You can see from this story why sailors and miners would be devoted to St. Ann. When crusaders from Europe – many from France – went to the Holy Land in the 11th century, they rebuilt the early church of St. Ann in Jerusalem. By the 14th century, devotion to St. Ann was on the rise throughout Europe.

There are reasons for this growing devotion. In the mid- 14th century, Europe was struck by the Black Death,  a plague that raged everywhere for over 150 years, wiping out almost 30 percent of its population and bringing fear, famine and death. Families bore the brunt of the catastrophe as they tended their sick and cared for the healthy.

They needed models like Mary and Joseph, protectors of their Child in difficult circumstances. Extended families needed models like Ann and Joachim, grandparents who supported their child and grandchild.

When the plague ended, Europe’s population expanded dramatically in the late 15th and 16th centuries; new towns and cities sprang up everywhere and families were uprooted from places and people familiar to them. Relatives and friends were separated, work was often hard to find. Families needed help to stay together and survive.

At a time when children were under pressure, sometimes neglected, faith suggested the biblical models of Mary and Joseph, Ann and Joachim.  Images of the nursing Madonna and the caring grandparents became important sources of inspiration.

Groups of Christians arose known as Confraternities of St. Ann, dedicated themselves to caring for widows, orphans and families under stress. Images of Mary and Ann, nursing their children, playing with the Christ Child and/or John the Baptist were more than pious pictures; they had a social purpose as well.

One picture from this era, still popular today, portrays St. Ann teaching her little daughter how to read.  Sometimes the words on the book are words of scripture; sometimes they’re basic numbers or letters of the alphabet: 1,2,3,4-A,B,C.

Playing with children, teaching them the ABC’s, passing on the mysteries of God to them are vital actions. Simple as they may seem, they are holy actions and they can make those who do them saints.

The Story of Ann and Joachim

Joachim 1
Joachim among the Shepherds

We celebrate the Feast of Ann and Joachim today, parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  The New Testament says nothing about them, but an early 2nd century document called the Gospel of James tells their story,

Ann and Joachim lived in Jerusalem, the ancient source says, where Joachim, a descendant of David and a wealthy man, provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices. The two had ties to Bethlehem nearby and Nazareth in Galilee.

They were well off but for twenty years disappointment clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after vowing to dedicate their child to God, no child came. And so, at a time when children were treasured, they were thought poor. Descendants of David, they were blamed also for failing to continue the line the Messiah would come from.

Stung by criticism, Joachim spent more time in the mountains, brooding among the shepherds and their flocks. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too grew sad. God seemed far away.

In the garden one day, noticing some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree, Ann burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “birds build nests for their young and I have no child of my own. The creatures of the earth, the fish of the sea are fruitful, and I have nothing. The land has a harvest, but I have no child  in my arms.”

At that moment, an angel of the Lord came and said, “Ann, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child the whole world will praise. Hurry to the Golden Gate and meet your husband there.”

At the same time, In the mountains an angel in dazzling light  spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid, the Lord hears your prayers. God knows your goodness and your sorrow and will give your wife a child as he did Sara, Abraham’s wife, and Hannah, mother of Samuel. You  will have a daughter and name her Mary. Give her to God, for she will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb.  Go back to Jerusalem. You’ll meet your wife at the Golden Gate and your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Joachim and Ann met at the Golden Gate to the temple, the place of God’s presence. They embraced as they spoke of the angel’s promise. Returning home, Ann conceived and bore a daughter, and they called her “Mary.”

Joachim 4

When she was three years old, Ann brought Mary to the temple to learn the scriptures, to pray and take part in the Jewish feasts. She watched her father bring lambs to be offered in sacrifice. She grew in wisdom and grace in God’s presence.

Mary in temple Giotto

When Mary approached marriage age– then 15 or so–her parents arranged for her marriage as it was customary. They sought the high priest’s advice, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen as her husband. Nazareth was then their home.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where Jesus grew up. He was raised in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who cared for him as a child.

No one knows just when or where Ann and Joachim died, but Jesus must have treasured them in life and on their passage to God.

The 2nd century Protoevangelium of James repeats a fundamental theme of  the Book of Genesis: God promises Adam and Eve many children who will enjoy the blessings of the earth. God repeats the promise to an aged, childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, and again to Hannah, who bemoans her childlessness to the priest Eli in the temple. In the same way, God gives a child to Ann and Joachim. Mary, their daughter, brings blessings to the nations through her son Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Spirit.

Giotto’s 14th century illustrations (above) from the Arena Chapel in Padua. helped popularize the story of the parents of Mary in Italy, Europe and the rest of the western world.

It’s an important story for grandmothers and grandfathers. Like Ann and Joachim they have a big role raising the next generation. More than they think.