A homily for the May Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
The month of May heralds many joys, some within the natural world, as the hawthorns burst forth with their eponymous, rich, white blossom and the leaves of both trees and shrubs become a translucent, emerald-green. Then there are the joys of faith, not the least of these being the May devotion to our Lady. It is a time to rejoice with the mother of Jesus in the great events of the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. It is the month of the rosary, supporting the rejoicing of the faithful and the privilege of intercession, whilst the mysteries of faith are recalled: sorrowful, joyful and glorious.
For Christians Mary is a role model. She is the pivotal character in the story of God’s dealing with his people. As the mother of Jesus, she is, according to the teaching of the Church, the Mother of God, Theotokos. This doctrine was settled by the Council of Ephesus in 431 although it was already a well established belief which emphasised the two natures of Christ: his humanity and his divinity. The divine, born of the humanity of Mary, is both God and Man. The Council also ratified the virginity of Mary as a mark of her purity and holiness. This declaration also found expression in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which was elevated to the status of a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church in 1854. This is a controversial teaching for some, but it is best understood as a belief in the working of the grace of God in the life of Mary. Mary as the second Eve is part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world and it is as part of this plan that her purity is assured.
Jesus was born because Mary said ‘yes’ at the Annunciation. It was a full and free response that held great risk for the unmarried young girl, not only because of her situation, but also because of the natural perils of childbirth. Mary’s ‘yes’ becomes the model response of all Christians to the call of God. We are called regardless of the cost and our only faithful response is that of Mary. Jesus was brought up by a human mother in a human family and knew what it was to be just like the rest of the human race. Mary with the help of Joseph was responsible for the upbringing of Jesus so that he would be a god-fearing and faithful Jew. Mary, and the Holy Family generally, are the best example we could possibly have for motherhood and family life. Such an emphasis on the Incarnation also serves to emphasise the thinking which is currently fashionable about the self-emptying and vulnerability of God who becomes human in Jesus. This is the crucified God who is seen amongst us as victim, the God of Philippians 2 who empties himself and takes the form of a slave.
It might also be valuable to mention the Glorious Assumption of Mary which was raised to the status of a dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950. As with all such teaching it has its origin much further back in history, but it serves to place Mary in the same category as the holy ones of God like Enoch and Elijah who at the end of their lives were taken by God to be with him in heaven. Thus taken into heaven as the mother of our Lord, Mary is accorded the title Queen of Heaven to lead the praises of the saints in glory and the host of heaven, wonderfully described in Athelstan Riley’s hymn ‘Ye watchers and ye holy ones’
O higher than the Cherubim,
More glorious than the Seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluya!
Mary leads the people of God in saying ‘yes’ to him as our proper response to his call. She represents the Church and sets the standard which we must all live up to if we are to be faithful to our Kingdom calling. My remaining thought is really a prayer. It is a prayer for unity, that by following the example of Mary all Christian people of every denomination may find their true role in the Church and may be drawn into a deeper fellowship and unity through our Blessed Mother.
Father Andrew Burton SSC
5th May 2020