Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

May 24, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 87, allowing it to focus us on Mary, the Mother of Christ and thus of the Church. 

With her “Yes”, Mary engaged the Spirit of God and, like the ancient Holy City, became a dwelling place of Grace.

Glorious things are said of you,
    O city of God!
And of Zion they shall say:
    “One and all were born in her;
And the One who has established her
    is the Most High LORD.”

Psalm 87

In her book “Truly Our Sister”, theologian Elizabeth Johnson helps us to understand Mary as a companion, guide, and inspiration:

One fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.


As I pray with Mary today, I picture her sitting with the young disciples after the mind-blowing experience of Pentecost. The whiff of Divine Electricity still pervades the room, still jars their senses to an indescribable timbre!

Mary is stilled with a silent understanding. From the abundance of her wisdom, gained in her daily presence with Jesus, Mary gently focuses, calms and directs these new evangelists for the task before them.

Mary is someone who has had her own “visitation by the Spirit”, many years before. Pentecost, for Mary, is a kind of “second Annunciation “. She knows what the willing reception of the Spirit will mean for one’s life.

Indeed, this moment – and their response, like hers so long ago – will bear God’s life into their world.


We call on Mary today, as Church and as individuals, to be with us as we are re-fired in the Holy Spirit. As we reflect on her and the way she opened her life to God, may we grow in faith and desire to open our own lives to the Spirit’s transformative power.


Elizabeth Johnson encourages us:

“to relate to Miriam of Nazareth as a partner in hope in the company of all the graced women and men who have gone before us; to be encouraged by her mothering of God to bring God to birth in our own world; to reclaim the power of her dangerous memory for the flourishing of suffering people; and to draw on the energy of her memory for a deeper relationship with the living God and stronger care for the world.”


Poetry: Annunciation – Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, 
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.

       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

                  ____________________

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.

But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

                  ____________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,
                                Spirit,
                                          suspended,
                                                            waiting.
                  ____________________

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.

The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.


Music: Vespro Della Beata Vergine – Claudio Monteverdi

From the baroque period, Monteverdi praises Mary in his masterpiece, Vespro Della Beata Vergine commonly referred to as Vespers of 1610. The work is monumental in scale and difficult to perform, requiring two large choirs who are skillful enough to cover up to 10 voice parts accompanied by an orchestral ensemble. Here is just an excerpt.

Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: lauda Deum tuum, Sion.
Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: benedixit filiis tuis in te.
Qui posuit fines tuos pacem: et adipe frumenti satiat te.
Qui emittit eloquium suum terræ: velociter currit sermo ejus.
Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: nebulam sicut cinerem spargit.
Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit?
Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea: flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquæ.
Qui annunciate verbum suum Jacob: justitias et judicia sua Isræl.
Non fecit taliter omni nationi:
et judicia sua non manifestavit eis.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.
For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee.
He maketh peace in thy borders,
and filleth thee with the finest wheat.
He sendeth his commandment to the earth; his word runneth swiftly.
He giveth snow like wool;
he scattereth hoar frost like ashes.
He casteth forth his ice like morsels; before his cold who can stand?
He sendeth out his word, and melteth them; his spirit blows, and the waters flow.
He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgements to Isræl.
He hath not dealt so with any nation;
and his judgments he hath not made manifest.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, without end. Amen.

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