All posts tagged: Blessed Virgin Mary

The Virgin Mary as “Eternal Woman”

The holier a woman, the more she is a woman. —Léon Bloy To call the Virgin Mary the “Eternal Woman,” as I do in the title of this essay, is, of course, to allude to the title of Gertrud von Le Fort’s famous book, The Eternal Woman, first published in German as Die Ewige Frau in 1933. In Sister Prudence Allen’s magnum opus, The Concept of Woman, she devotes two pages to a brief discussion of Le Fort (1876−1971), highlighting her personal and intellectual kinship with Edith Stein (1891−1942), whom Le Fort visited in the Carmel in Cologne and with whom she exchanged letters. Sr. Allen excerpts the following passage from one of Stein’s five extant letters to Le Fort, dated January 31, 1935: Dear Baroness, Our retreat ended this morning. A retreat in Carmel—all that’s lacking to make it heaven is one’s own holiness. My spiritual reading those days was your new book. I could not get to it earlier. Now at last I can thank you for this beautiful Christmas gift. I would …

Advent Flesh?

It is the first week of Advent, and I am waiting for Jesus’s flesh. That is not all I am waiting for, but it is the central thing, the thing without which I would not be waiting for anything else. This means that Advent is a fleshly season first and last because the direct intentional object of all the waiting that goes on in it is flesh, and not just any flesh, but the flesh of a male Jew who, rather more than two millennia ago, was conceived, birthed, suckled, catechized, inspired, baptized, tortured, killed, raised and taken up to heaven. More than that; but at least that. One aspect of my waiting is strictly memorial. I am waiting to be able to remember Jesus’s natal flesh, the flesh conceived in Mary’s womb, active in Galilee and Jerusalem, and crucified at Golgotha. That flesh is no longer with us, and cannot be. I have never seen it or touched it or tasted it, and I never will. Neither will you. With respect to that flesh, …

Advocata Nostra and the Devil’s Due

The Season of Advent could quite rightly be understood as the season of Mary. The Christian community prepares for Christmas and waits with Mary for the birth of her firstborn son. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the Church places two great Marian feasts during this time of hope and expectation: the celebration of her Immaculate Conception and the veneration of her apparition in Guadalupe, Mexico in 1531. While the Church has always venerated Mary, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a particular increase in the devotion to her cult and in Mariology more generally. In a theologically rigorous essay from the collection Mary: The Church at the Source, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger provides some “Thoughts on the Place of Marian Doctrine and Piety in Faith and Theology as a Whole.”[1] He begins his reflections with a brief history of the development of Marian devotion in the years between the end of World War I and the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Ratzinger describes two charismatic movements that characterized the Catholic Church …

Sex and Symbol

I was reared in the cradle of Evangelical Protestantism. I passed from girlhood to womanhood in that world, and during the tumult of puberty an increasing awareness of my unruly female body introduced me to the contested terrain of “womanhood” itself. What is a woman? What is her place? What are her gifts and limits? In an Evangelical context, such discussions and demarcations focused primarily on the concept of roles. What is it that woman is supposed to do? Or, more to the point, what is she not supposed to do? I was something of a tomboy, with bushy eyebrows and generous facial hair. I was competitive, but also tenderhearted. I anthropomorphized everything, in accordance with the stereotypes of my sex, but I enjoyed doing boyish things. I loved sports. I wanted to be fast. I wanted to win. On the sports field, there seemed to be no limits. But lines were drawn starkly in church. A woman’s role, her task, was to be a helpmeet to her husband and care for her children. The …

The Assumption and Gender

On November 1, 1950, Venerable Pope Pius XII in His Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Generous God) solemnly defined and decreed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the teaching that Mary−because she was preserved from the stain of Original Sin inherited by the Fall of our first parents—did not undergo the corruption of the body at the end of her earthly life, but was lifted body and soul into Heaven. It is really an incredibly bold dogma, and one which can even scandalize our separated Protestant brothers and sisters, but it is very reasonable and meaningful, and is in need of particular attention in today’s world. It is important to realize that this dogma was not invented in the 1950’s. As Pope Pius XII’s encyclical points out, this tradition is found in the ancient liturgical books of both East and West. It is also attested to by St. Sergius I, Pope in the late 17th century, who even prescribed a litany to be prayed on the feast. But …

There Is No Salvation Through the University

The 173rd commencement exercises will take place at the University of Notre Dame this weekend. Like most University commencements, there will be a good deal of self-congratulatory statements about the remarkable promise demonstrated by the class of 2018. Likewise, there will be generic exhortations to the newly minted students to “change the world,” to respond to the “unique challenges of this generation.” Yet not everything about these commencement exercises is quite so formulaic. At the conclusion of graduation on Sunday morning at Notre Dame Stadium, students will sing the Alma Mater once more (this time facing their parents and friends). The personification of the University as “nurturing mother,” as the place that brought the students into wisdom, is shared across colleges and universities. Students at Harvard College sing out in praise of “Fair Harvard!” The Bulldogs of Yale pledges themselves in song to God, country, and Yale. At the University of Tennessee, students clad in orange and white sing a wistful hymn commemorating the search for wisdom begun “on a hallowed hill in Tennessee.” Notre Dame’s Alma Mater is …

Traversing Marian Economics

This August I will celebrate five years since being received into full communion with the Catholic Church. My journey into the Church was a long one, at least ten years. When I began telling friends and family about my upcoming reception, like most Catholic “converts” I received a wide range of reactions. I’d been raised within a small Protestant holiness denomination and later, during graduate school, I was confirmed in the Episcopal church. In addition to this, for many years I’d been studying and practicing canonical icon writing with a Russian Orthodox school of iconology. Some people couldn’t understand why I’d leave the Episcopal church as they knew I had convictions about women’s leadership in the church. Others couldn’t understand why I wasn’t becoming Orthodox, given my passion for the holy images. It is never easy to explain such journeys, and it is not my personality to attempt explanation. But some loved ones needed to hear something by way of explanation and so, when I found it pressing, I gave the best answer I could …

The Month of Mary and Music

Editorial Statement: During the month of May (Mary’s Month), Church Life Journal will celebrate the month of Mary by consider the nature of the  Marian imagination in art, music, folk customs, private devotion, and ritual action. The dedication of May as Mary’s Month is attested by several traditions, rather than by one definitive tradition. The earliest mention of it is from King Alfonso X of Castille in the 13th  century. The king speaks about honoring Mary on various dates in May in his Cantigas de Santa Maria.  However, the dedication of the full month only developed sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries. If that explanation is not precise enough for you, then here’s Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetic attempt at one in “The May Magnificat”: MAY is Mary’s month, and I Muse at that and wonder why: Her feasts follow reason, Dated due to season— Candlemas, Lady Day; But the Lady Month, May, Why fasten that upon her, With a feasting in her honour? Is it only its being brighter Than the most are must delight her? Is it opportunest And flowers …