Monday, 12 November 2007
Something you may have missed from Cardinal Pell
By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
Those who like to criticise Catholic devotion to Our Lady and claim that it is an invention of the Middle Ages, not to be found in early Christianity, would do well to take a walk through the catacombs of Rome. There upon the walls in a variety of places they would find the Greek inscription, Χαίρε, Μαρία (Chaire, Maria) – Hail, Mary.
Most of us learnt this prayer, the Hail Mary, at our mother’s knee. And if we were asked to name the oldest prayer to the Virgin Mary, we would probably say, the Hail Mary. That prayer, known more formally as The Angelic Salutation, is the text of today’s Offertory Antiphon. But it is not the oldest prayer to Our Lady, since it did not take its final form until the 15th or 16th century.
The oldest Marian prayer is the short supplication, Sub tuum praesiduum, which will be sung during this Mass. This invocation dates back to around the year 250 – long before the Middle Ages. The boys taught by the Marists use the Sub tuum as a school song, and they still like to chant it with gusto in Latin, especially at St. Joseph’s College after another Rugby victory. An impressive rendition I have heard a number of times! I hope and believe they know the meaning of its ancient words:
'We fly to your protection, O holy Mother of God.
Despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.'
It was once thought that the Sub Tuum dated from the Middle Ages, but the discovery of an innocent-looking papyrus leaf in Egypt in 1917 revealed that this prayer really goes back to the 3rd century. And the Sub Tuum demonstrates that the Marian title, ‘Mother of God,’ did not originate with the Council of Ephesus in 431, but was simply confirmed by that important gathering as the common belief of Christians everywhere.
The divine Motherhood of Mary is the common thread that ties together all the texts of today’s special celebration. Christians of the Eastern Churches call Mary the ÈÞïôüêïò (Theotokos), the ‘God-Bearer’. We Latin rite Catholics greeted her similarly in today’s Introit: Salve, sancta Parens – Hail, holy Mother. In the Gradual we saluted Our Lady as Virgo Dei Genitrix – Virgin Mother of God. And in the Gospel we encounter the woman who praises the Mother of our Divine Saviour for bearing and nursing Him as a child.
Yet we Catholics know well that in honouring the Mother of the Lord, we give even greater honour to the Lord Himself. Elizabeth’s words to Mary become our own:
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb!
Catholics have always had a special relationship with Mary. St Alphonsus Ligouri once said,
"When Mary’s clients call her mother, they are not using empty words.
She is our Mother – not by flesh, of course, but spiritually:
the Mother of our souls, of our salvation."
And we count on this relationship, children to mother, in helping us grow closer to Christ, our Brother, who in turn leads us toward a deeper union with God, His Father and ours. St Louis de Montfort says this on the subject:
"The Son of God, by making Himself entirely subject to Mary as His Mother,
gave her a maternal and natural authority over Himself
which surpasses our understanding.
He not only gave her this power while He lived on earth,
but still gives it now in heaven,
because grace does not destroy nature,
but makes it more perfect."
Catholic England was once aware of this special relationship between the followers of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. Catholic England gloried in the title, ‘Our Lady’s Dowry’, and when the Faith was transplanted to our own shores, some even claim Australia was named by some ‘Our Lady’s Second Dowry’.
In our time, Australia is struggling to live up to that legacy. We live in a fragile world where mortal sin is glorified. We do, then, need to be reminded of Mary's powerful intercession through-out the centuries. We need to pray relentlessly for her powerful intercession, and for the virtues of perseverance and discernment, for we are facing a very different enemy, an enemy who loves the body, while killing the soul.
We and the Tempter are enemies of each other, we, the offspring of the Woman who strikes at the Serpent’s heel. That is why it is more important than ever that we show our true childhood in Mary by hearing the word of God and putting it into practice, as this morning’s Gospel reminds us.
The word of God tells us today that we, like the Virgin Mary, are loved by God the Father, and that He has not forgotten us. Christ comes to us in many ways – in the poor, the weak, the marginalised, in the wanderer, the sinner, and the merest children.
In the upcoming World Youth Day, we are looking forward to the visit of young people from all across the globe, and especially to the visit of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict. But the most important visitation for which we must prepare will be the moment when the hidden Christ comes to us, then and today, in the people we least expect to reveal Him to us, and in His Body and Blood, which Mary first gave to the world.
Just as some have wrongly thought that Marian devotion is a medieval Catholic invention, rather than a part of Christian spirituality practically from the start, so there are those today who have believed that the Second Vatican Council set aside devotion to Our Lady. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the Council’s Constitution on the Church (no. 22), it quotes the Sub Tuum, saying:
"Clearly, from the earliest times,
the Blessed Virgin has been honoured under the title of Mother of God,
and the faithful have 'taken refuge under her protection
in all their dangers and necessities.'"
With the frenetic pace of modern life and the somewhat dangerous times in which we live, we are fulfilling the explicit desire of the Church by coming together this morning for this Holy Mass in honour of the Mother of God.
Let me add that we are also fulfilling the desire of the Church, and the wish of the Holy Father as expressed in his recent Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum by offering the Sacrifice of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal.
This rite nourished my own childhood and young adulthood, as it has nourished the lives of many here today. I was raised in a cathedral parish, and grew up with this rite. Countless saints gave worship to God by using the same words and singing the same melodies that echo in Our Lady’s Cathedral this morning.
Of course, the 1962 Missal was the result of centuries of liturgical evolution. It is a direct descendant of the Roman Missal of Pope St Pius V, published in 1570. That, in turn, was a revision and renewal of the liturgy found in the Sacramentary of Pope St Gregory the Great, which dates back to the 6th century. Those Mass texts, in turn, found their origin in a variety of liturgies and prayer forms that came from Syria and Egypt, Greece and Rome – particularly Rome -- and all points in between, and in all the languages of those peoples.
Today we find ourselves still on the journey of liturgical development and renewal. The dignity and beauty of today’s celebration, with its timeless Latin and uplifting music, remains a vital part of our Catholic tradition. It is celebrated with regularity in several places in the Archdiocese, and I am especially pleased to celebrate it here today.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Patroness of our Archdiocese, assist us in our worship with her prayers, and help us by her own example to be ever more obedient disciples of her Divine Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.