Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking stories of the Christian Scriptures is that of the Holy Innocents whose feast day the Church celebrates on December 28th. To make certain that the Child born in Bethlehem would not challenge his power, King Herod decreed that all infants under the age of two were to be killed. St. Matthew’s Gospel quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they are no more” (Ch 2). A similar scene continues to be played out in Africa, the Mideast, and in other parts of the world, where mothers and their newborn infants are put to death for the Christian faith.
Zebedee and his wife had two sons, James and John. She asked Jesus for a personal favor: “Grant that one of these sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at you left in your kingdom” (Mt 20:21). Though she probably didn’t realize the weight of her request, who can blame her for seeking preferential treatment of her two sons?
Mary of Nazareth: the Loveliest Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys (Song of Songs 2:1)
Traditionally, May is Mary’s month. In Washington’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, one Mary Chapel after another represents various countries in their depictions of this loveliest of women holding her Child, each garbed in ethnic clothing. Whether it’s in literature, architecture, iconography, painting, statuary, or in music, the burst of creativity continues among artists in singing Mary’s praises. In fact, since the Middle Ages, about 15,000 hymns are directed or addressed to her.
In the Christian East, Mary plays an integral role in liturgical celebrations where she is mentioned several times. Her presence in the liturgy is based on the centrality of her role in the economy of redemption. Most often addressed as Theotokos, the God-bearer, or the Mother of Life, Mary is hardly ever depicted without her son, for she is intertwined with the mystery of Jesus. She holds the God-Man and shows him to the world.
The Christian East praises Mary as the Virgin of Motherhood as expressed by St. John in the verse: “Woman, here is your son” (Jn 19:26). A woman, full of grace and strength, Mary is not simply a type of ideal womanhood. She is a prototype of the Church and a model for Christians.
Mary in Islam
Not only revered in the universal Catholic Church, Mary is also greatly honored in the Islamic tradition. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran. Maryam is mentioned thirty-four times as contrasted with nineteen in the Gospels. She is never referred to as the Virgin Mary, but the account of the Annunciation and Nativity is extensive. The Quran reverently approaches the narrative on Jesus’ birth from Mary. He was a prophet who respected his mother and whose mission was to offer an example through a life of prayer and good deeds. Our church leaders should take note that Maryam is a bridge between Islam and Christianity.
Mary and the Spiritual Exercises
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola presents a lovely tableau not found in the Gospels, the Appearance of the Risen Lord to his Mother. Ignatius reasons that it would have been impossible for the Son not to appear to his Mother before appearing to his disciples.
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The simple chant, “Mary the Dawn,” is lovely to pray on Mother’s Day:
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.
“Credentials,” a poem by Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., describes the essence of a rose and the loveliest rose God ever made:
. . . So the rose is its own credential, a certain
unattainable form: wearing its heart visibly,
it gives us heart too: bud, fulness and fall.
Happy Mother’s Day, Valiant Women All.