Summary: Every title we give to the Blessed Virgin Mary is an act of praise to God in Christ

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Christmas Eve 2015

Joy of the Gospel

Recently the Capuchin Franciscan preacher to the papal household, a Father Cantalamessa, gave his last Advent homily for the year, and, speaking of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said this of Catholics: “we Catholics have contributed to making Mary unacceptable to Protestants by honoring her in ways that are often exaggerated and ill-advised and above all by not keeping devotion to her clearly within a biblical framework that demonstrates her subordinate role with respect to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus himself. Mariology in recent centuries has become a non-stop factory of new titles, new devotions, often in polemic against Protestants, sometimes using Mary-- our common Mother!-- as a weapon against them.”

He also criticized the extreme rationalism of some Protestant theologians. Now contrast this with Zechariah’s berekah–his hymn of praise–uttered as his first words after nine long months of mute listening. Remember, this was the priest-father of John the Baptist, responding to the question, “what shall we name your son?” at his bris–his circumcision. Poor old Zach had given the angel the wrong answer when told, at the time of sacrifice, right close to the Holy of Holies, that he would sire a son in his old age. His answer to Gabriel, whom I imagine to be about four stories high, appearing in the glory of God, was not “Oh, thank you, Lord,” or “yes, I’ll go home and tell Elizabeth right away.” No, he asked the angel how this would happen, since he and Elizabeth were old. For his lack of faith he was struck dumb and had to spend the next nine months listening to all the women of his family cluck to each other about how he was dumb in several other ways as well.

Well–not all the women of his family, or at least of Elizabeth’s family. Because just about fourteen weeks later, Mary appeared at his door, and the baby Elizabeth was carrying–six months along–jumped for joy. Over the next few weeks, as they waited for the child’s birth, Zechariah had cause to listen to the stories Mary told–about her betrothal to Joseph, about her vow which he understood that she would remain a virgin even in marriage, about the visit of Gabriel to herself, her wonder at the mystery, and the miraculous conception of the tiny child who would be called Jesus. Zechariah realized that as he stood offering incense next to the empty room that should have held the Ark of the Covenant–the ark stolen and lost by the Babylonians hundreds of years earlier–Gabriel was trying to draw him into the mystery that then brought Mary–the true Ark of the Covenant–to his home. The stolen Ark held the commandments of the Law; Mary held the very Lawgiver, the Lord of hosts. The old one contained the manna; Mary bore the Bread of Life. The lost Ark was inaugurated by a cloud, representing the presence of God, resting on its mercy seat; Mary’s pregnancy with the God-man came as the very Spirit of God descended and worked a miracle in her womb.

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