The Way of BeautyMary, Rose of the Church

As the Church approaches the final days of Advent, we rejoice, for the Lord is near. St. Anselm, Doctor of the Church and Archbishop of Canterbury (12th c), presents the Church with soaring prose about the Mother of the Word Incarnate in relation and juxtaposition to God the Father:

Through Mary, God made himself a Son, not different but the same,
by nature Son of God and Son of Mary.
The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary.
God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God.
The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation.
He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined created without Mary.
(From a sermon by St. Anselm, Office of Reading, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Liturgy of the Hours I, 1229.)

Anselm continues praising the Father’s marvels from eternity and Mary’s wonders in time.

God then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world.
God is Father by whom all things were given life, and
Mary, the mother through whom all things were given new life.
For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and
Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world.
Without God’s
Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Prior to Gabriel's announcement, Mary was already betrothed to Joseph and together they had planned their future.  Both were favored by the Lord.  Yet, God would transform their personal designs into a larger and lovelier mosaic. Mary, followed by Joseph, said yes to the divine plan, and both assumed their respective roles in salvation history.  Consider in amazement:  creation was redeemed through Mary’s yes; without it, nothing would be redeemed. It is no wonder that Mary is so highly venerated in the Church. 

Mary is the “Theotokos,” the God-bearer, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Mary mirrored God before God mirrored her.  Despite her singular role in salvation history, Mary’s holiness is entirely accessible because it is rooted in reality.  Hers was not a blind or naive faith, but a faith that was intelligent, knowing, and total.  She went about her day=s work–ordinary and commonplace.  There she found God in the sacrament of the present moment.  She bore fruit, and that fruit was the fruit of her womb, the Messiah of the world.

Mary and the Rose

In Marian art forms, Mary and the rose are closely linked, for the rose is a flower of rare beauty.  Mary is “the Rose-Tree who bears Christ, the Rose-Blood-red” the Rose of Sharon (Song of Songs 2:1).  The experience of contemplating a rose is partly sensory and partly cognitive. A rose reveals its beauty mainly because it scents the atmosphere with its fragrance.  But the rose also attracts by its color, texture, and conspicuous form.  It captures the attention and gives pleasure and deep satisfaction.  Even the blind derive pleasure from its beauty. As one is drawn to the rose and is overwhelmed by it, the whole person grasps its beauty.  One enjoys it, loves it, and exclaims:  “How, beautiful!”

Mary is the most beautiful rose in the garden of the Church because her life exudes ‘the odor of sanctity.’  This phrase, used so often in ascetical theology, may be described as the fragrance proceeding from the person, clothing, or domicile of a saint during life or after death.  It means a reputation for goodness. Ascetical theology also documents that sainted people have emitted pleasant fragrances during their lifetime or at death.  These sweet odors resemble those of the rose, or violet, orange-blossom, cinnamon, or musk. St. Paul links holiness in Christ to the image of a fragrant aroma:

. . . Christ, through us, spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved
and among those who are perishing,
to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Cor 2:14-16)

Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi compares the scent of a rose to the gospel of Christ and to a Christian life:

Let your life speak to us even as the rose needs no speech but simply spreads its perfume.
That is the secret of the rose.
But the Gospel that Jesus preached is much more subtle and fragrant than the gospel of the rose.
If the rose needs no agent, much less does the Gospel of Christ.

The following hymn, one of the richest in Marian hymnography, is here offered for reflection: 

Mary the Dawn, Christ the perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav=nly Way!
Mary the Root, Christ, the Mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!

May the Wheat-Sheaf, Christ the Living Bread
Mary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose-Blood-red.
Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!

Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored.
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.

Father Daniel Berrigan’s poem, “Credentials,” which describes the essence of the rose, summarizes the reflections of St. Anselm, Mahatma Gandhi, and Marian hymnography:

More in The Way of Beauty

So the rose is its own credential, a certain
unattainable form: wearing its heart visibly,               
it gives us heart too: bud, fulness and fall.

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