Memores Domini

Two unnamed disciples leave the tragedy of Jerusalem, bewildered, bereaved, frightened, confused and abandoned. They walk along the road the dusty road to Emmaus, with heads probably lowered in great moments of silence and they are facing the sun setting over Jerusalem. They are walking into the darkness of evening. They are witnesses to human suffering in the person of their Lord and Master and they feel in themselves the darkness that is falling around them that Easter Evening. They had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem, but all they are left with is an empty tomb without its body. No one had seen the resurrection take place, only the women had witnessed the emptiness. The women they had been told witnessed a vision of angels who told them that Jesus was alive. These two disciples walked away, walked into the darkness that was falling. Confused and saddened they walked away feeling within themselves the emptiness of that cave, a cave that even the dead seemingly abandoned.

In life we too can walk away from situations we do not understand and cannot control, sometimes it seems to the best way to cope with difficulties and tragedies. Very humanly we turn our backs and walk in the opposite direction as the only way to cope with or even survive the trials that life can present to us. Like the two disciples on the road we can however run too fast, not to the tomb, but to what seems like light, when in fact is the sun setting and not rising.

What is the challenge of this Gospel for Ireland today? Many of our people have walked in different paths in different directions, family members and friends, neighbours and even our children may have seemed to walk the opposite way like the two disciples.  They have stood perhaps at the feet of a tragedy, a moment of personal suffering, and they like the two may have experienced not the comfort of resurrection and life, but rather the emptiness of a tomb. What they may have hoped for has not being realised, they too perhaps feel abandoned and empty, frightened and confused. The faith we have, they have wanted to experience in their own lives, the faith that gives us life has not been an experience of liberation for them. They see the tomb with the shadow of the cross, and the shadow is dark indeed.

I like to think of Dominicans as “Memores Domini” Those who keep the memory of the Lord alive. Those who keep the Lord alive in their minds and hearts, thinking of him, contemplating him and speaking thus to others of him.  In this story of the Emmaus encounter the person of Jesus walks beside the two disciples and opens for them the scriptures, talking to them of himself and of God’s love for the world. This is the ideal of the Dominican vocation and indeed all vocations.  Our Christian vocation today is not to stand at the side of the road and watch people pass-by, our vocation is to walk with our loved ones, to walk with our families and friends, to walk with them into the sun setting in their own lives. We cannot force them to turn around, but we can walk with them and speak with them, to keep the memory of the Lord in their presence witnessed through our lives.  Our vocation maybe to set the world on fire, but maybe it is hearts that need to be set on fire, as we know the disciples said very beautifully, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road.”  Many hearts around us are broken and in need of love, hearts that are very close to us in our daily lives. Many around us, those we live with and those we work with, the person beside you on the train or the bus, the person in the queue behind and before you, they all need and want to experience the love that we have within us, the love of him that we keep alive, the experience of the Resurrection that burns away the shadows of the tomb. Let us who carry the beads of the Rosary as our daily companion walk along the roads of life with those around us and closest to us with those who find it hard to accept that God is alive in their life, let us listen to them and allow the stranger of Emmaus to use us, to bring that living message that the cross is not the end, but only the beginning and that life issues from the empty tomb. May we who keep the memory of the Lord alive, walk joyfully and allow that which burns within us to shed light on the pathways of this life for others.   Let us face the Sun rising and turn our backs to its setting. May our families and friends and those we live and work with recognise the person of Jesus in each one of us as we walk along the path of life and the lives of others. May those who are broken like the bread at Emmaus find healing, strength and life through the memory we carry in our hearts and the mysteries we contemplate at the feet of the Virgin of the Rosary.

Fr. John H. Walsh, O.P.

Mary stands by the cross

Close by the Cross of Jesus was his mother Mary. But she was not simply there as the other by-standers, she wasn’t simply looking on. She was suffering with him. Here at the Cross she was living out the prophecy of Simeon. Years earlier when she brought her little boy to the Temple in Jerusalem the old man took the child in his arms and prophesied that the child would be a sign that would be rejected and to his mother he had said “a sword will also pierce you soul also”. Now as she stands by the Cross every blow he received she feels in her soul. The lance that pierced his heart also pierces her soul. She is not looking on from a distance.

Mary teaches us how to attend the Holy Mass.  When we go to Mass we are not to be mere by-standers – looking on at what the priest is doing. We are meant to stand like Mary, to be part of what is going on, indeed to offer ourselves in communion with Jesus.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told us this when he addressed the International Eucharist Congress in Dublin in 2012. Speaking of the renewal of the liturgy after the Vatican II the Pope said: “The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ’s love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and “active participation” has been confused with external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal. In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognize anew the mysterious presence of the Risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life.

The Eucharist is the worship of the whole Church, but it also requires the full engagement of each individual Christian in the Church’s mission; it contains a call to be the holy people of God, but also one to individual holiness; it is to be celebrated with great joy and simplicity, but also as worthily and reverently as possible; it invites us to repent of our sins, but also to forgive our brothers and sisters; it binds us together in the Spirit, but it also commands us in the same Spirit to bring the good news of salvation to others.”

Mary helps us to enter into the inner depth of the mystery that we celebrate at the Holy Mass. She teaches us how not to be bored. So often people go to Mass to be entertained, to listen to a nice priest, to hear the good music, because it is has a good children’s liturgy. All these things may be fine as externals, but if one is not also going to be with Christ, to offer oneself to the Father in communion with Christ, then you stand as one of the by-standers at Calvary. You are watching things from afar.

Each time we go to Mass we must go prepared to have our souls pierced. We go to meet Christ anew in our lives. How often do we go to Mass expecting so little and therefore we receive so little in return. I have a friend who always says he goes to listen to Mass. I asked him was he going just to listen but he replied that he was going to have the words of the sacred liturgy pierce his soul.  He said to me that he listens to the readings of the Sacred Scripture expecting them to pierce his soul. He listens to the words of the Eucharist-prayer so that he can hear the words of Jesus pierce his soul with his love; “This is my body offered for you” and “This is my blood poured out for you”. And finally he goes to Holy Communion so that the Word of God, Jesus Himself can come to him and truly pierce his soul with his real presence.

In union with Mary we too can learn how to be true active participants in the Mass and not mere on-lookers and by-standers.

Fr. John M. Harris, O.P.

St. Dominic Preaching the Mystery

When we pray the Rosary we not only meditate on the history of the Lord’s life but try to make these events increasingly meaningful in our own lives. Looking at some of the mysteries we discover that they involve what appear to be completely mundane things, they do not all involve an obviously miraculous or supernatural happening. In the Joyful mysteries, apart from the Annunciation, we find ordinary human events like Mary visiting her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the birth of a child and so on. Of course these events in the life of the Lord and his Mother are surrounded by the miraculous action of God in His world, but if we were to look with ordinary eyes and not eyes enlightened by faith, we would see simple, ordinary human things.

It is one of the stories from Dominican history that tells of how Our Lady appeared to St. Dominic in 1208 in Prouille and gave him the Rosary as a means for preaching the Gospel. Until this time St. Dominic had been trying with little success to convert people who had fallen away from the full truth of the Catholic faith. Armed with the rosary and the central insight of this way of prayer, St. Dominic began to meet with increasing success in his preaching and within eight years had obtained from Pope Honorius III the permission for a new order to be called “The Order of Preachers”, known better as Dominicans.

It is hard to say exactly why St. Dominic became so successful in his preaching, but one of the factors was most definitely his use of the Rosary to preach the true faith in the face of the distortions of the heretics. Though many of the mysteries of the Rosary are seemingly mundane events, there is always something more going on behind the scenes. There is a dual truth at the very least to each mystery, in that though they often speak of ordinary human acts, they are always speaking simultaneously of the acts of God that give reality and truth to what is most obvious to us.

St. Dominic knew and understood this, and passed on the Rosary to his followers as a most useful means of encountering Jesus in prayer. It was and is a most efficacious way of prayer because in presenting the events of the Lord’s life in an orderly manner we are able to follow the whole story and come into touch with a reality. This reality, the reality of the Incarnate God, is what we are seeking in prayer, seeking to know and believe by faith. The ordinary events, the historical facts of the life of Jesus are the means by which we encounter Jesus as his disciples first did while he lived. Yet we are never invited to simply rest in the ordinarily human, no, we are invited by this humanity, this physicality, to progress deeper in our understanding until our minds are enlightened by faith.

Fr. Ciaran M. Dougherty, O.P. St. Malchy’s Friary, Dundalk.

Mary, Model of consecrated life

At the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel told Our Blessed Lady that she had been chosen to become the mother of the Messiah Mary asked how this could come about since she was a virgin. We have become so familiar with the account of the Annunciation that we have stopped being puzzled by the Blessed Virgin’s reply.

The Archangel already knew she was a virgin, so Mary couldn’t have been telling the Angel anything new. Also it could have been God’s plan that the child be conceived in a natural way as it was with John the Baptist and many other births in the Old Testament. But this doesn’t seem to have been the issue. Rather what was at stake was that Mary had consecrated herself to God as a young girl and she was wondering how her consecration as a virgin could be fulfilled if she was to be a mother. We see in her query to the Archangel one who is open to God’s plan, she is not doubting what God can do, she is simply asking how as a consecrated virgin she could also be a mother.

In his encyclical on Love Pope Benedict XVI writes beautifully about Mary and her interior disposition before God. Mary’s understanding of her relationship with God brings us to the very heart of what it means to be a consecrated person. Pope emeritus writes that the whole programme of Mary’s life was not to set herself at the centre, but leaving space for God, who is encountered both in prayer and in service of neighbour. Only then, Pope Benedict says, does goodness enter the world. “Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to glorify God, not herself. She is lowly: her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord (cf. Lk 1:38, 48). She knows that she will only contribute to the salvation of the world if, rather than carrying out her own projects, she places herself completely at the disposal of God’s initiatives”.

Mary handed herself over completely to God and in this she finds true freedom and happiness. So often freedom is presented to us as a freedom to do as we desire and therefore we must expel God from our lives. Mary challenges this false notion of freedom and in her life teaches us that true freedom is only found by making God the ground of our lives and the centre of our stories.

Men and women religious in the Church endeavour to show us the same response to God. They take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in answer to God’s love for them and by freely placing God at the centre of their lives. They love Him more than anyone else in chastity, they treasure Him more than anything else in poverty and they love Him even more than they love their own plans and decisions for their lives in obedience. In this way they are an invaluable witness in the Church of the call each Christian has of placing love of God at the centre of their lives.

It is the role of consecrated people to confront this secular age with the reality of God. They challenge any comfortable cultural expressions of spirituality or sentimentality. Religious in the Church of today, as religious have always meant to be in the life of the Church, take God seriously and believing in God placing themselves completely at the disposal of God’s initiatives. Mary stands as the great model of this life-choice and she is for all consecrated persons a powerful advocate in their determination to make Christ their whole lives.

Fr. John M. Harris, O.P. St. Saviour’s Dublin.

Maire Muingelnat

In the National Museum of Ireland there is a manuscript containing Irish language poems, written some time in the seventeenth century. About fifty years ago, a scholar named James Carney edited and translated the poems, and showed that they were probably written not in the seventeenth century, but in the eighth century. The poet was identified as Blathmac, son of Cú Brettan.
Two of the poems are very interesting for anyone who has a devotion to the Rosary. Each contains (or originally contained) 150 stanzas, imitating the 150 psalms in the Psalter, just as did the three fifties of Hail Marys in the traditional Rosary.
The first poem is in the style of a ‘keening’ poem. This was a standard genre of poetry in the Ireland of the time, and a patron might pay a poet to write a poem in honour of his deceased child, for example, or kinsman. In the case of our poem, the one ‘keened’ is Christ, and the ‘patron’ is Mary herself. The poem begins:
Come to me, loving Mary,
That I may keen with you your very dear one.

Throughout the poem this intimate tone is adopted, with Mary addressed in a natural, affectionate fashion. She is not just ‘Maire’, but ‘Mairenat’ (dear Mary), ‘Maire muingelnat’ (little bright-necked Mary), ‘Maire mas’ (beautiful Mary), ‘boídMaire’ (loving Mary) and ‘Maire co llí’ (bright Mary). Over 150 stanzas which mark with great sorrow and solemnity the sufferings of the good Christ, the repetition of the name of Mary is a constant reminder of the humanity of the one suffering. Just as in the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, our sorrow is kept fresh by viewing the awful events of the Passion through the eyes of Christ’s mother:

Most difficult, most grievous was every tribulation
of holy Christ, greater than that of any renowned captive;
sad was it, Mary, the deep wound of points upon your first-born.

And throughout, the poet himself unites his sorrow to that of Mary: ‘I myself will lament your son with you’.
The second poem is very different – it is not a poem of mourning, but a praise poem, with the same subject and the same ‘patron’ as the first poem. Mary is told the praises of her Son, and she herself is also addressed in terms of praise. She is the ‘sun of our race’, the ‘sun of women’, and with Christ in her womb she was like a ‘chosen coffer of red gold’. Again though, Christ is the focus, and with Mary as his constant point of reference the poet praises Christ, risen from the dead. With an imagination informed by faith, he envisions the ‘household of Heaven’ breaking into tears as they welcome Christ on his Ascension into Heaven. Blathmac describes the power of Christ over the heavens, the sun and the moon, and ‘the chess-board of beautiful stars’. And he imagines in great detail his second coming, all the time addressing his words to Christ’s mother:
Beautiful maiden, were a hundred tongues to speak of it
they could not recount the extent of your son’s power.

Blathmac wrote his poems centuries before the Rosary developed, but anyone who prays the Rosary regularly will instantly sympathise with his approach to the Christian mysteries. He situates himself in the snug space between Mary and her Son, a place of tender sorrow and world-conquering joy. The first poem ends with the same words it opens with, which simply sums up the spirituality of the Rosary: ‘Tair cucum a boídMaire…’ – ‘Come to me, loving Mary, that we may converse with compassionate hearts’.

Br. Conor Benedict McDonough, O.P. St. Saviour’s Dublin.

Mystery in Sacred Glass

Kilkenny City in the southeast of Ireland is full of antiquities and the Dominican Order has been present in the city since 1225. One of the greatest treasures of Kilkenny is the great Rosary window of the Dominican Black Abbey which boasts to be the largest stained glass window in Ireland. The window was created in 1892 by the Mayers Stained Glass Company of Munich Germany and is composed of five lights of vertical panels each depicting five mysteries of the Rosary.

From the outside this great window looks dark and dreary but once you enter the Abbey Church the window comes alive reflecting the sunlight that passes through the tiny panels of glass which make up each mystery. The Sun reveals the beauty and splendor of the craftsmanship of the window, the Son of God reveals through the heart of his Mother the splendor of his life in the Rosary which is depicted in this window. It is truly from within the Church through the experience of faith and life that we can see the Church for what she really is, something splendid and beautiful. The Church like the Black abbey’s window is illuminated with the grace of Christ which comes to us through Mary. Christ fills his body the Church with the splendor of light but in order for us to experience this splendor we have to enter a building which may seem old and tired, perhaps at times musty and even irrelevant to modern living.

The Rosary window of Kilkenny, reminds us of the divine light which streams through the mysteries of Christ’s life. What may seem ordinary and perhaps dimmed is in fact always luminous. We too may have become too accustomed to the mysteries we pray daily in the Rosary and out of simple routine we may become cold to them and indifferent. When we take up our beads we must ask the Virgin to see her child as she sees him. To use her heart to love what she loves, and to use her lips to speak of him as she speaks of him to us in these mysteries.

Each mystery of the Rosary allows the splendid light of Christ Jesus to illuminate the darkness of our lives, our church and the world. We can never exhaust the mysteries of Jesus but rather we may allow them slowly to change us, to fill us with his light and to allow him to radiate his joy to others through us.

As we take up our beads again and again, we must allow the Rosary mysteries become windows into our own souls, to pierce the darkness with light and to allow us to reflect that light into our families, our society and our world. The glass of the Rosary window stands firm in ancient walls which date from 1225, those who pray the mysteries of Jesus stand firm in the heart of a gentle maiden who allowed the light of the Holy Spirit to illumine her. Mary is the true window which allows us to see and contemplate her Son.

“Christianity without Mary adores a God who is not human. Christianity without Christ is a building without foundation. Christianity without the Mother of Christ is a building without cement. The Mother of Jesus is not a sentimental addition; she is an essential part of Christianity.” (Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P. )

Fr. John Hyacinth Walsh, O.P.

The Grotto of Lourdes is a school of prayer

St. Bernadette tells us that on first seeing the young Lady in the Grotto she immediately took out her rosary beads. She attempted to make the sign of the Cross but her hand would not move. The Lady blessed herself and then Bernadette was able to copy her. From then on in her life people always noticed the reverence with which Bernadette made the sign of the Cross. Once Bernadette began to recite the rosary the Lady fingered each of the beads as she prayed with Bernadette. Her lips only moved at the Gloria at the end of each decade. At the end of the five decades the Lady disappeared.

We can see from this that the rosary was the most familiar prayer for Bernadette. Her immediate reaction was to take her beads from her pocket and pray. This reaction was typical for most Catholics until the last few decades. Their rosary beads were always close to them and they instinctively gripped them in moments of fear or concern. They always held to Mary in moments of uncertainty knowing that their heavenly Mother would care form them. Maybe we need to rediscover the practice of always having our beads with us. Each time we pray we hold them, whether or not we are praying the rosary. Their very presence reminds us that Mary is our constant companion in our openness to God and on our journey through life.

This first apparition of Our Blessed Lady in Lourdes also teaches us that when we pray the rosary Mary prays with us. This is probably the true secret of how to pray the Rosary, it is praying in the company of Mary. As you move the beads through your fingers remember that Mary is also doing the same thing with you as she did with Bernadette. Together with her you are thinking on the life of Christ and in his life thinking also on your own life and how the light of Christ sheds light on your life, all done in the company of Mary.

There is another incident which took place at the Grotto I often think about when I pray. One day as Bernadette was making her way through the crowds to get to the Grotto a rich lady from Paris gave her an expensive pair of rosary beads and asked Bernadette to use them during the apparition. As usual when the Lady appeared Bernadette began her rosary, but she realised that the Lady wasn’t praying with her. So she stopped and asked the Lady why. The Blessed Virgin asked Bernadette where her own rosary beads were. She told her they were in her pocket but that this lady had asked her to use her beads during the apparition. The Mother of God told Bernadette to put them away and use your own beads.

When we pray we shouldn’t try to pray like others. We can only pray as ourselves. That is what God and His Blessed Mother desires. In God’s presence there is no play-acting, indeed prayer is the one place we can be utterly ourselves and pray as we can. At times you may feel that somehow our prayers are inadequate or lacking life, but once they are true to us we are doing exactly what God wants. God desires us, not to be someone else but to be truly the person he lovingly created and redeemed. In the presence of Mary we learn to accept ourselves, as we are, but now also as the children of God without any fear or pretence.

Our Lady of Lourdes, teach us how to pray.

Fr. John M. Harris, O.P. St. Saviour’s Dublin.

The Virgin Mary compared to the air we breathe

Why would Our Blessed Lady have given the task of preaching the Rosary to St. Dominic and the Order he founded 800 years ago? We can get all caught up in the veracity of the ancient tradition which tells us that Our Blessed Lady appeared to St. Dominic and gave him the mission of preaching the Rosary. However there is no historical doubt that the Rosary as it is now prayed and preached is in large part due to the preaching of the Dominican Order through the centuries. Why did she choose an Order of Preachers?

We know from the Wedding Feast of Cana that Our Blessed Lady’s evangelical spirit desires that everyone know her Son and go to him in all their needs. Therefore it is of the utmost importance to her that people know her son.  Pope Paul VI wrote of the rosary that it is “a prayer inspired by the Gospel and centred on the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption should be considered a prayer of deep Christological orientation.” With this in mind we can see why Mary would want the Rosary preached.

It is not simply about knowing about Jesus but of coming to know him as she knows him. The Rosary is our communion with Mary in getting to know Jesus. None of our race knows him more deeply than Mary, his mother, the perfect disciple.  It is by praying in her company we ponder over the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection and come to know him deeply and spiritually. Therefore we can see why Mary would want her Rosary prayed.

Why Dominic? I think there are two possible reasons; one personal and one more public. Dominic had a great personal love for Our Blessed Lady and always turned to her in times of trouble and found her a true source of protection and strength. Secondly the preaching of the Rosary and the faithful daily recitation has been the greatest gift given to the Order to help us in our mission. It keeps our preaching on message and reminds us that all our preaching is to bring us into a prayerful relationship with Christ in the midst of his church.

It also gives our preaching its joyful, caring and positive impetus because our theology comes from praying with Mary and coming to know Jesus and his mission from her perspective. Maybe as Dominicans we don’t realise how deeply she has affected how we preach, pray and study. She pervades our lives and our preaching, coming from the praying of the rosary as a constant in our lives.

Did Our Blessed Lady appear and give St. Dominic the Rosary maybe she did for she loved him and the Order he founded under her protection. But that’s not the point of the legend, the truth of the legend is that the Order would not be what it is, its preaching would not be focused, its theology would not be affirmative without Mary and the praying of her Most Holy Rosary.

Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem, giving the title of this article writes: Be thou then, O thou dear Mother, my atmosphere.

Fr. John M Harris. O.P.

St. Saviour’s Priory, Dublin.

Lourdes, the Fount of Mercy

In the seventh apparition at Lourdes which occurred on the 25th of February 1858, St. Bernadette was asked by the Blessed Mother to go to the fountain and wash. Mistakenly Bernadette went towards the river Gave but the Lady pointed to a spot beneath the grotto. Bernadette scratched the soil and some muddy water came forth. She cupped it in her hands covering her face with mud, much to the horror of onlookers. Finally, she was instructed to eat some bitter tasting herbs beside the little pool which again horrified and amused the onlookers who declared the little girl was insane. One of the onlookers would in time say about Bernadette in such a filthy state that, “We could have said that she bore all the sorrows of the world.”

We must remember that Bernadette resembles here Christ who spat on the ground making mud with his saliva in order to daub the eyes of the blind man in St. John’s Gospel. That poor muddied faced man was asked by the Lord to later wash in the pool of Siloam. (Jn 9:6-7) If we remember back to the book of Genesis it was with the soil of the earth that man was created, and in the waters of baptism we were washed into a new creation. The Blessed Mother asked that Bernadette would pray for sinners, and these small acts which brought her condemnation were a physical and yet symbolic reparation for the offences of mankind. The crowds that gathered at the grotto, jeered and mocked the young seer who was obedient to instructions of the Lady dressed in white. Christ Jesus too was jeered and mocked by his accusers both at the pillar of scourging and lastly upon the cross. Christ was offered bitter vinegar in his last moments of life again as a mockery but to fulfil the scriptures and here Bernadette eats bitter herbs, which symbolises the bitter herbs used to stuff the paschal lamb during the Passover feasts.

To scratch the soil and bring forth water reminds us of Moses striking the rock in the desert which brought forth water to refresh the people of Israel in the midst of their desert journey. Christ Jesus upon the cross will have his side pierced through with a spear bringing forth blood and water, the symbols of baptism and Eucharist, cleansing and nourishment for our life’s journey. Bernadette of Lourdes in this single apparition takes upon herself in obedience the face which becomes the icon of Christ in the world. Here in this muddied dark Grotto she will be instructed to have a church built where people will come with lighted lamps in honor of the Mother of God and for the worship of Christ our Redeemer. The Grotto is a place where Bernadette was ridiculed and laughed at, yet she was obedient to the words of the Lady. In that place where the waters continually flow, millions of people, both sick, suffering and sinners have washed in the waters which now run clear. In this great year of Mercy, let us draw near to the sacrament of reconciliation. Let is bring our muddied and stained souls to the fount of grace, the rock which was pierced out of love for us. The Virgin of Lourdes and her handmaid Bernadette invite us to repentance and to become the face of Christ in our world. All of us have the heritage of mud in us, but in Christ Jesus we have been set free and washed clean in the baptismal fount of his blood. Come to the water anew, which is Christ Jesus. The Virgin points to him, the true source, may his kingdom reign in our hearts, our families and our world.

Fr. John Hyacinth Walsh, O.P.

The Mother of God

In 431 AD, in the beautiful city of Ephesus in modern day Turkey, the bishops of the Church met to discuss various issues most notably the nature of Jesus. Interestingly, Mary had lived in Ephesus for some time after the events of that first Easter. In John’s Gospel we learn that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..” (John 1.14). So the council fathers affirmed (after not a little lively debate just like a recent gathering of Bishops in Rome)  that Jesus was made man, He was the Son of God and the Son of Mary. Thus the Dogma of the Mother of God was instituted.: Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus,” Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord,”  In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity,  Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God (Theotokos) (CCC 495).

Just over 100 years previously in 325 AD at Nicea, Bishops met to discuss the tradition that had been handed down from the time of our Lords life, that Mary, His mother was a virgin, when Jesus was born and she remained a virgin. The perpetual virginity of Mary is expressed in 3 parts: in her virginal conception of Christ; in giving birth to Christ, and her continuing virginity after His birth: we read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that Mary was virginitas ante partum: virgin before birth, virginitas in partu: virgin giving birth virtinitas post partum: virgin after birth: ‘Mary “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin”  “ with her whole being she is “the handmaid of the Lord”’ (Lk 1:38). (CCC 510). Of the three, the virginity “before giving birth” is crucial because it relates to the time of the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary and is the moment of the mystery of the Incarnation (see CCC499).

So from its foundation this has been constantly present in the Church’s belief. When the second Council of Constantinople met in 553 AD the truths which had been handed down from the foundations of the Church, the council fathers presented their affirmation thus; ‘If anyone does not confess that God the Word was twice begotten, the first before all time from the Father, non-temporal and bodiless, the other in the last days when he came down from the heavens and was incarnate by the holy, glorious, God-bearer, ever-virgin Mary, and born of her, let him be anathema. The birth of Jesus, the Son of God from a virgin, free from sin was necessary “The virgin birth is the necessary origin of Him who is the Son and who as Son first endows the messianic hope with a permanent significance extending far beyond Israel”, (St Augustine).

Mr. Damien McDonnell, O.P.

Lay Dominicans, Kilkenny.