Hail, holy Mother! The Child to whom you gave birth is the King of Heaven and earth forever. Father Marco Testa is a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Here is his homily for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
Today’s Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God celebrates the divine motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the oldest of all Marian feasts. It celebrates not only our Lady’s unique role in the Mystery of the Incarnation but also sheds light on our own efforts to live the Mystery of Christ along the path of Christian discipleship; the path of devout humility. Devotion to our Lady has always had a privileged place in popular piety. God’s power shines forth most frequently where His Mother is honoured and venerated.
There are many titles by which we honour our Lady and all of these express in some manner her maternal love for God’s children and our love for her who is our Mother in the order of grace. These titles, by which we invoke our Lady, are a wonderful summary of her place in the unfolding Mystery of the Incarnation. They are found in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today we honour her as Mother of God, Theotókos, for she gave birth to the Son of God; and because Christmas celebrated the appearance of God’s grace among us, we also invoke her as Mother of Divine Grace. Her unique role in the Mystery of the Incarnation as Mother of the Messiah, Mother of Christ, and Mother of our Saviour, was not merely functional. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon her a second time, Mary became the Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ and so we invoke her as Mother of the Church.
In the course of this week, the Octave of Christmas, we celebrated a number of very important Feasts, commemorating both events and figures in salvation history. These liturgical celebrations clearly illustrate for us that “the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem is not an event which can be consigned to the past. The whole of human history in fact stands in reference to Him: our own time and the future of the world are illumined by His presence” (Incarnationis Mysterium, 1). In the sacred liturgy we celebrate not only the events themselves of salvation history but also the men and women and children redeemed by the Saviour who have lived and proclaimed this Mystery in a manner worthy of imitation. In all of these events and figures, the presence of our Lady is clearly discernible for she is both Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed. And so we invoke her as Refuge of Sinners, Help of Christians and Queen of All Saints.
On this the last day of the Christmas Octave, though the first of the New Year, we do well to place ourselves under the loving protection of the Mother of God. By honouring her, Jesus her Son is rightly known, loved and glorified and His commandments are observed (Lumen Gentium, 66). When our Lady is honoured, Jesus is rightly known as true God and true Man. Her presence guarantees that we grasp the truth of the Incarnation. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:14). The Son of God became like us in every way so that He could show us the fullness of His mercy. God “is rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4) and “by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3). And so we can rightly say that the celebration of the Lord’s birth also celebrates the birth of the Christian people. And just as history is illumined by the presence of God’s Son, salvation history is also illumined by the loving presence of the Mother of God, the Mother of Divine Grace.
Our own times have not been without the aid of our Lady, the Refuge of Sinners and Comforter of the Afflicted. Historians have observed that “the second half of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of the Marian century, in which the Blessed Mother came with messages of hope and a call to conversion” (Warren Carroll, A History of Christendom: The Crisis of Christendom, Vol. 6, p.145). Both hope and conversion were needed in light of what was to come; and the same is true for us today. The apparitions of our Lady at La Salette and Lourdes in France, at Knock in Ireland and lastly at Fatima in Portugal were special gifts from God destined to awaken new hope in people. Already in 1830 however, our Lady had appeared to St. Catherine Labouré at Rue du Bac in Paris and through this humble saint, our Lady revealed the Miraculous Medal, the Medal of the Immaculate Conception. It could be said that this medal was designed by our Lady. Since then, millions of these medals have been distributed throughout the world. The medal is worn or pinned to one’s clothing. Around the margin of the oval medal are these words: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.” These words recall the beginning of our Lady’s earthly life and as such, affirm her sinlessness in view of her election as Theotókos, the Mother of God. These words however, speak no less to us of an end in the sense of aim or goal. These words are eschatological as well as etiological; they speak to us of both origin and destiny – our Lady’s and our own, for it is we who have recourse to her as Help of Christians, Refuge of Sinners and Mother Most Amiable. We have recourse to her for we need her motherly help as we endeavour to follow Her Son along the path of devout discipleship; that we might be saved.
A number of years after the revelations of the Miraculous Medal, St. Catherine wrote these words during a spiritual retreat. They are good words of advice as we begin a new year. “Place everything in Her Immaculate Heart, in the Sanctuary in which our Lord deigned to live. The three virtues of our holy state: humility, simplicity and charity… are the basis of our vocation.” She was of course, speaking of her religious vocation as a Daughter of Charity, but we can also make these virtues our own. What better time than the beginning of the year to resolve to be humble in our discipleship, simple and moderate in our lifestyle and generous in charity. At the end of this same retreat, St. Catherine made this resolution: “To let no day pass without practising some virtue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” It is possible for us also to make and to keep this resolution. Let us begin by asking our Lady above all, to keep us from sin.
In the Chapel of our Lady you will find a basket with Miraculous Medals and a little pamphlet that explains the Medal’s origin. Wear the Medal. Be sure to pay a visit to her Chapel on this, her Feast Day. Give a medal to your loved ones and never fail to have recourse to our Lady in all your needs, both spiritual and temporal.
May our Lady, the Mother of God and our Mother Most Amiable, be for us a model in devout discipleship. May she nurture in each one of us the desire to be pleasing to God alone and to seek holiness above all else. May she obtain for us the grace to be perfect in charity for this is the essence of holiness. Mother most pure, obtain also for us the grace to seek God with pure and undivided hearts. May we learn from you who are both our Mother and our Queen, to understand above all else that holiness is the wholehearted openness to the love of God. Virgin most faithful, Humble Handmaid of the Lord, may we learn from you to serve the Mystery of the Incarnation as this Mystery unfolds in the intimacy of our own hearts and in the life of the world today. Mother of the Word Incarnate, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, hear and answer us. “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.”