Monday, December 11, 2006

Mary in Advent

I missed the Immaculate Conception, a feast of which I confess little knowledge and with which I confess little sympathy. But given the incredibly beautiful literature that has flowered around that observation, I wonder yet again why Mary has fallen into that great well of unfamiliarity and disregard among even us Catholic-Evangelical proTESTants. In my stream of the tradition -- viz., middlle-of-the-road Lutheranism -- we have the model of our namesake to guide us: Luther was, by all accounts, devoted to the Virgin -- not of course, in the manner of many of his contemporaries, but sincerely reverential nonetheless. So, it seems to me, one need not be content with the Vatican's declarations of the origins and disposition of Our Lady to pay homage to her -- and homage we do indeed owe. Why, the sheer numbers of this and that for which she serves as metaphor (and more) would press that responisibility on us, let alone her literal place in the drama of salvation.

Today, I offer this from my favorite Christian poet, the deacon Ephrem of Syria (fourth century). Not only does he get so much right and beautiful, but he testifies to the earliness of the devotion paid to Mary, thereby demonstrating that while various Mary-cults may be a more recent development in Church history -- see Jaroslav Pelikan's book, Mary Through the Centuries -- the propriety of honoring her and even praying to her is not.

“O Immaculate and wholly-pure Virgin Mary”

O Immaculate and wholly-pure Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Queen of the world, hope of those who are in despair; thou art the joy of the Saints; thou art the peacemaker between sinners and God; thou art the advocate of the abandoned, the secure haven of those who are on the sea of the world; thou art the consolation of the world, the ransom of slaves, the comfortress of the afflicted, the salvation of the universe. O great Queen, we take refuge in thy protection: ‘We have no confidence but in thee, O most faithful Virgin.’ After God thou art all our hope. We bear the name of thy servants; allow not the enemy to drag us to Hell. I salute thee, O great Mediatress of peace between men and God, Mother of Jesus our Lord, who is the love of all men and of God, to whom be honor and benediction with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

St Ephrem the Syrian

It is part of Advent's "retting up" to honor His Mother as an aspect of awaiting The Lord's return. (Read the prayer carefully, and you may discover some of the sources of discomfort that force me to re-examine much that I take for granted about the Virgin, too.)

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