From the Priest
This was last week’s Homily (delivered on Sunday 8th September).
Today, the Church would normally celebrate the Birth of Our Lady. Because, this year, September 8th falls on a Sunday and Sundays take precedence over all but the most major of feasts, her birthday slips under the radar, but it is good that we remind ourselves of her great day. The circumstances of her birth and infancy are not directly recorded in the Bible, but ancient documents and traditions about her background are cited by some of the earliest Christian writers. Her parents were St Joachim and St Anne. Tradition describes Joachim as reasonably well off and a pious man, who lived in Nazareth, where Our Lady was brought up. St Anne is thought to have come from Bethlehem. Both parents were from the tribe of David. The couple were, at first, childless, something which caused them great sadness. Joachim went on retreat into the desert to pray and fast, that they might have the gift of a child and, in due course, his prayers were answered; rather in the pattern of Abraham and Sarah, and Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist.
Saint Augustine rightly described the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as an event of cosmic significance, for now the final brick was in place for the rolling out of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. And in order to enrich Mary for her vocation, as Mother of Christ, she was given a grace that no other human has ever received, nor will. She was conceived without the flaw of original sin which all of us, except her, have inherited. This is what we know as the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and it is beautifully explained in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Quoting Pius IX it says: The most blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God…………preserved immune from all stain of original sin’.
The Anglican poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) paid her this tribute in one of his Ecclesiastical Sonnets called The Virgin.
Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.
The Virgin Mary holds a singularly exalted place in Islam and she is considered by the Qur’an to have been the greatest woman in the history of humankind. She has a name “Tahira”, meaning “one who has been purified” and representing her status as one of two humans in creation (and the only woman) to not be touched by Satan at any point. It was recognition of Mary’s sinlessness that caused the angel Gabriel to refer to her as ‘full of grace’; words that we repeat every time we say the Hail Mary. Thus Mary received in advance the grace for which we all long, that we will receive after our death, when we will be fully united and integrated with God in the place that we call heaven. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the doctrine of The Virgin Birth are endlessly confused. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth is quite simply what we say in the creed about Our Lord: that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit without human agency and born of the Virgin Mary’. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception describes Mary’s unique sinlessness. Both doctrines make it inevitable that Our Lady should be assumed, body and soul, following the steps of her Son.
Fr. Stephen 15th September
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