Psalm 98: Mary’s Echo

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

December 8, 2020


Sing to the LORD a new song,
Who has done wondrous deeds;
Whose right hand has won victory,
God’s holy arm.

Psalm 98:1

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we pray with Psalm 98, a song foreshadowing Mary’s prophetic Magnificat.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked with favor on His humble servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, describes the Mary’s Magnificat like this:

… in the line of the great biblical singers Miriam, Moses, Deborah and Hannah, Mary launches into divine praise. Her spirit rejoices in God her Savior, for poor and common woman though she may be, the powerful, living, holy God is doing great things to her. Not to her only but to all the poor, bringing the mighty down from their thrones, exalting the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, sending the unrepentant rich away empty all of this in fulfillment of the ancient promise. In her very being this is happening, for she embodies the nonentities on whom God is lavishing rescue. This great prayer, a revolutionary song of salvation, places Mary in solidarity with the project of the coming reign of God whose intent is to heal, redeem and liberate.


Psalm 98 focuses us on the point that our prayer today with Mary is about God’s power for the poor, the lowly, the hungry, the bereaved, frightened, lost, lonely and sorrowing — all the beloved aching children of God.

Mary says there is a Power much greater than the one that oppresses any of us. Look to that Power with hope. Draw strength from that Promise.

The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his mercy and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.

Psalm 98: 2-3

Mary and Psalm 98 invite us to a “new song”
in a world that seems to have forgotten how to sing.

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.

Psalm 98: 3-4

Poem: Segments of a poem “A New Magnificat” by Hillary Watson, Pastor of Shalom Community Church, Ann  Arbor, MI.

And why should I not be smiling,
knowing what I know now
about what comes after all this
when all the evil falls down,
when justice bursts like a sweet flood through the streets
and all the pennies thrown into all wishing wells
rise up like miracles?

Let me tell you the Good News:
There is Good News.
That’s it:
goodness, somewhere, rushing toward us
in the place where future meets present tense.
Hope unwinds across the fragile world
and whispers its nightmares away.

There is a good day coming, I can see it,
when the walls built up between countries
crumble back into the earth they rose from
and all the people run free where they want
like every contour of every nation was shaped by the same God,

there’s a day coming when bullets freeze themselves
in the policeman’s guns, when all the Border Patrol cars
stall out in one breath, their guns and tasers
melt into plows and paintbrushes,

and the children trapped in desert camps
sing down the walls that hold them,
they sing back the road to their mothers and their fathers.

Music: The Magnificat- sung by the Daughters of Mary

Our Lady of the Rosary

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

October 7, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 117. Since it is also the Memorial of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, I’ll refer you to a previous post on Psalm 117.


For today, the Feast of the Holy Rosary, we may wish to focus on that venerable prayer which had its origins in the very early Church. In fact, those early versions of a rosary are connected to the Psalms:

Prayers with beads like the rosary may have begun as a practice by the laity to imitate the Christian monasticism of the Liturgy of the Hours during the course of which the monastics prayed the 150 Psalms daily. As many of the laity could not read, they substituted 150 repetitions of the Our Father for the Psalms, sometimes using a cord with knots on it to keep an accurate count.
(The Catholic Encyclopedia)


The shape of the rosary as we pray it today emerged more clearly in the 13th century as Marian devotion blossomed in the Church. The tendency of that devotion was to place Mary, and other saints, between us and God. They, having already gained heaven, were deemed to have intercessory power we lacked. So praying the rosary became an “asking prayer” rather than a meditation on the whole of Christ’s life. In many ways, our relationship with Mary also took on a sentimentalism which lessened her true and unique power as witness and companion in the Communion of Saints.


Theotokos of the Passion – 17th century

Today, Marian theology, as well as rosary devotion, looks to a clearer understanding of Mary’s role as participant in the continuing redemptive act of Jesus. Praying with her, in any form, is an opportunity to experience Jesus from her perspective and to apply that grace to our own life and world.

“Remembering Mary as a friend of God and prophet in the communion of saints, a woman who is truly sister to our strivings, allows the power of her life to play in the religious consciousness of the church, encouraging ever-deeper relationship with the living God in whom our spirits rejoice, and allying us with God’s redemptive designs for the hungry, the lowly, and all those who suffer, including in an unforgettable way women with their children in situations of poverty, prejudice, and violence.”

Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ – Truly Our Sister

I try, as I pray the rosary, to imagine Mary within each particular mystery or circumstance of Christ’s life. What did she experience? How did she grow in grace? What is she guiding me toward in my relationship with God?

I also ask Mary to allow those graces and insights to bless and heal not only my life but the life of the world, particularly where there is great pain or suffering for women and children.


In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being
~ Denise Levertov
(Reading this poem, we may think of our prayer as a “breathing” enveloped in the Presence of God. The “holy ones”, like Mary, easily ride that breath of prayer. When we pray with them, as in the Rosary, they “rock” us into the silent rhythm of God.)

Photographer: Johannes Plenio
Birds afloat in air's current,
sacred breath?  No, not breath of God,
it seems, but God
the air enveloping the whole
globe of being.
It's we who breathe, in, out, in, in the sacred,
leaves astir, our wings
rising, ruffled -- but only the saints
take flight.  We cower
in cliff-crevice or edge out gingerly
on branches close to the nest.  The wind
marks the passage of holy ones riding
that ocean of air.  Slowly their wake
reaches us, rocks us.
But storms or still, 
numb or poised in attention,
we inhale, exhale, inhale,
encompassed, encompassed.

Music: Beneath Your Compassion (Sub Tuum Praesidium) performed here in Russian by the PaTRAM Institute Singers

The oldest known devotion to Mary can be found in the words of a hymn that is documented to have existed and been sung before the middle of the 3rd century. 

Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Theotokos:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble;
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.

Mary, Full of Grace

The Octave Day of Christmas

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

IMG_2003
Theotokos, a mosaic mural from the Gelati Monastery, Georgia, (1125-1130 AD)

January 1, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate Mary, Mother of Jesus.

I begin my prayer today by asking a question posed by distinguished theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ:

What would be a theologically sound, spiritually empowering and ethically challenging theology of Mary, mother of Jesus the Christ, for the 21st century? This question has no simple answer, for the first-century Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth, also held in faith to be Theotokos, the God-bearer, is arguably the most celebrated woman in the Christian tradition. One could almost drown surveying the ways different eras have honored her in painting, sculpture, icons, architecture, music and poetry; venerated her with titles, liturgies, prayers and feasts; and taught about her in spiritual writings, theology and official doctrine.

To see Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s excellent article, click here.


In my own prayer today, though, I am not reaching for a deeper theological understanding of Mary. I simply want to talk with her as my Mother, my older Sister, my Friend. I want to seek her guidance and her inspiration. I want to thank her for her continual willingness to bear Christ into the world, and into my life.

How significant it is that the Church begins the year inviting us all to Mary’s Light! Our first reading blesses us in a way that Mary might bless us:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Mary was all about giving us the LORD, not giving us herself. We see Mary best when we see her holding Christ toward us – the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos”.

IMG_2004
Theotokos Vladimirskaya icon, Vologda, Vladimirskaya Church, mid-end 16 century

This title, used especially in Eastern Christianity, originated in the 3rd century Syriac tradition. It affirms Mary as the Mother of Jesus, Who was both human and divine in nature.

Our reading from Galatians assures us that we too, by our Baptism, are the daughters and sons of God – thus becoming Mary’s own. She is our Mother too by the power of this sacrament.

Our Gospel reveals the spirituality of Mary who “pondered” all the mysterious workings of God deep in her heart. This Mary is my revered sister, guiding me as I meet the unfolding of God in my own life.

Today, let us pray with Mary, our Mother, our Sister, Bearer of God. Let us pray for the whole Church, the whole world – all of whom she tenderly loves.

Music: Two selections today.

A Peaceful Hymn to the Theotokos – Nuns of the Carmazani Monastery in Romania

Prayer of Pure Love – Leddy Hammock and Sue Riley

The Challenge of Peter & Paul

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

June 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the great Apostles Peter and Paul, first architects of the Christian faith.

Peter and Paul

From our 21st century perspective, we may be tempted today to celebrate the totality of their accomplishments – the scriptures ascribed to them, the theology traced to them, the cathedrals named for them.

But there is a deeper message given to us in today’s readings, one that challenges our practice of faith. We can access that message by asking an obvious question:

Why were Peter and Paul, simple religious leaders, persecuted, imprisoned, harassed, and eventually executed? What was the terrible threat these unarmed preachers presented to political power?

The answer:

It was their testimony to the transformative Gospel message of Jesus Christ – the Gospel of Mercy and Justice.

But Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom constituted a serious challenge to the Romans who ruled Israel during his lifetime. The cheering crowds who greeted him, especially during his entry into Jerusalem, as well as his confrontation with the moneychangers in the Temple, constituted such a threat to the unjust power of empire that the rulers crucified Jesus in order to silence him. – Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

Peter and Paul, and every committed Christian after them, bears the same holy threat to ensuing cultures of domination, violence and greed.

As Jesus, Peter, Paul and so many others down through Pope Francis show us, faith and politics always work hand in hand. The work of faith is to build a world where every person can live, and find their way to God, in dignity and peace. It is to witness to an alternative to any power that feeds on the freedom, joy and peace of another person – especially those who are poor, sick and vulnerable.

May Peter and Paul inspire us to continue the daunting task of such an apostolic faith.

Music:  They Who Do Justice – David Haas

They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
Those who walk blamelessly and live their lives doing justice,
who keep the truth in their heart, and slander not with their tongue!
Who harm not another, nor take up reproach to their neighbor,
who hate the site of the wicked, but honor the people of God!
Who show no condition in sharing the gifts of their treasure,
who live not off the poor: they shall stand firm forever!

Learning Mary

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

June 10, 2019

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Mary EcclesiaJPG

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate a rather new memorial feast. On February 11, 2018, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (yes, that really exists, even though it sounds a little bit like something from Harry Potter!) inscribed a new obligatory Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, into the General Roman Calendar. This memorial is celebrated every year on the Monday after Pentecost.

We might wonder why we need another feast and title for Mary after 2000 years of devotion to her. But the intent is to open our hearts and minds to new and more dynamic understandings of the role of Mary in our spirituality and theology.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said, upon announcing the feast:

This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life
must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ
in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed.

When any new Feast is decreed, liturgical readings and texts are assigned to it. For this memorial, a Latin hymn was designated, written by the modern Latin poet Anselmo Lentini:

O virgo mater, filia tui beata Filii,
sublimis et humillima præ creaturis omnibus,

Divini tu consilii fixus ab ævo terminus,
tu decus et fastigium naturæ nostræ maximum:

Quam sic prompsisti nobilem,
ut summus eius conditor in ipsa per te fieret arte miranda conditus.

In utero virgine o amor revixit igneus,
cuius calore germinant flores in terra cæ lici.

Patri sit et Paraclito tuo que Nato gloria,
qui veste te mirabili circumdederunt gratiæ. Amen.

Interestingly, Lentini’s text is a clear replication of Dantė’s “Divine Comedy” – Paradiso Canto XXXIII, here translated by Longfellow:

Thou Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son
Humble and high beyond all other creature,
The limit fixed of the eternal counsel,
Thou art the one who such nobility
To human nature gave, that its Creator
Did not disdain to make himself its creature.
Within thy womb rekindled was the love,
By heat of which in the eternal peace
After such wise this flower has germinated.
Here unto us thou art a noonday torch
Of charity, and below there among mortals
Thou art the living fountain—head of hope.
Lady thou art so great, and so prevailing,
That he who wishes grace, nor runs to thee
His aspirations without wings would fly.
Not only thy benignity gives succor
To him who asketh it, but oftentimes
Forerunneth of its own accord the asking
In thee compassion is, in thee is pity,
In thee magnificence, in thee unites
Whate’er of goodness is in any creature.

This new memorial of Mary is a further development of the hopes of Pope Paul VI as indicated in his encyclical “Marialis Cultus”:

“ ( There is) the need for Episcopal conferences, local churches, religious families, and communities of the faithful to promote a genuine creative activity in proceeding to a careful revision of expressions and exercise of the piety directed toward the Blessed Virgin. We would like this revision to be respectful of sound tradition and open to the legitimate desires of today’s people.”

Elizabeth Johnson summarizes: “This renewed Mariology should be

  • biblical, (rooted in scripture) 
  • liturgical, (respecting Mary’s role especially in Advent and Pentecost) 
  • ecumenical, (be in harmony with agreements already in place among Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholics) 
  • anthropological (conscious of the changing role of women in society, especially as women take on leadership in society: an image of Mary as passive and subservient is not acceptable to many modern women) 
  • theological (it would have God as the center – with Mary placed in relation to Christ and to the Church” 

Catholic Update, “In Search of the Real Mary,” by Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, (Cincinnati : St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001)

Music: Pascal Heni – Paradiso 33