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Schone Madonna (c. 1430, Austrian) in the Harvard Art Museums

Schone Madonna (c. 1430, Austrian) in the Harvard Art Museums

This homily was preached at Mass on the Sixth Sunday of Easter and was followed by a May procession and devotions in honour of Our Lady.

This season of Easter, which stretches fifty days from the first glimpses of Easter Sunday to its close at Pentecost, is perhaps most vividly characterized by joy. In the light of the resurrection and Christ’s victory over sin and death the Church exercises an unbridled fervour as she proclaims, “Alleluia! Christ our passover is sacrificed for us”. We see and hear this joy all around us, particularly in the sacred liturgy. Here in the magnificence of the Eucharistic celebration we see the splendour of fine vestments, the sacred ministers clad in white to represent the pure life of grace imparted to us through the Lord’s sacrifice of love; here we hear over and over again that great word, “Alleluia”, buried from our sight from Septuagesima until its bursting from the tomb at the gospel of the resurrection in the holy night of Easter; and with our hearts raised to God in honour of his triumph over evil we sing with a new appreciation the words of the psalmist as we are reminded of our baptism in the Rite of Sprinkling: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious: his mercy endureth forever”.

In this time, then, we see, hear and (if I may say) experience in the sacred liturgy the Church at her most joyful. Christ who endured for us the pains and torments of a most humiliating death is now raised in his physical body and so the Church, which is in a unique way his mystical body, participates in the resurrection as we, her members—those baptized and incorporated into the life of Christ—are caught up in the celebration of that most glorious supernatural gift of eternal life in God. By our union with Christ, and through his resurrection, we are one in the communion of the Godhead, becoming participants with him in the relationship of the Most Holy Trinity; a reality which we see most clearly here in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Truly this participation in the life of God is a great gift. By it our souls are opened to receive the grace he offers us through the worthy reception of the sacraments of the Church, by which we are prepared for the life of the kingdom of heaven. Our sanctification through this sacramental grace, bestowed on us by Christ’s sacrifice, enables us to grow in his likeness and become more closely conformed to his risen, ascended, and glorified body. With the words of last Sunday’s gospel of the true vine still ringing in our ears, we can say with the Venerable Servant of God, Pope Pius XII: “Christ our Lord wills the Church to live his own supernatural life, and by his divine power permeates his whole body and nourishes and sustains each of the members according to the place which they occupy in the body, in the same way as the vine nourishes and makes fruitful the branches which are joined to it” (Mystici Corporis, 55).

And if the joy of this reality is true of us as members of the Church in earth (we who are still on the way to the perfection required for our participation in the beatific vision), how much more so is it true of the saints; those faithful men and women who have gone before us and now, through the mercy and grace of God, see him as he really is and join in the unending worship of the heavenly kingdom. The saints, who in their earthly lives gave themselves to God in an heroic way, now see the fruits of the resurrection not through a glass darkly, but face-to-face as they encounter the Lord in all his glory. Their joy is complete; their participation in this life of grace has reached its summit as they themselves experience the resurrection life and the promised land of their inheritance. What we glimpse in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice and hope for tomorrow is theirs today, joined as they are for all eternity to the fullness of life and the fullness of love: “O what their joy and their glory must be, / those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see; / crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest: / God shall be all, and in all ever blest.”

Of all the saints, however, there is one whose role in the mystery of God’s redeeming work gives her a unique role in the life of the Church, and thus in the life of the kingdom of the Father. She alone, who is wholly united to her son in his incarnation and in his suffering, can we truly acknowledge and honour as the Mother of God and the mother of the members of Christ, the Church (CCC 963). In her we learn what the Church already is, and what the Church will be in the culmination of all things at the end of time (CCC 972). In her we see the hope of the resurrection for ourselves, witnessing her unswerving consent to the Lord’s will for her life and thus “collaborating with the whole work her son was to accomplish” (CCC 973). By her “yes” she became the first to experience the joy of the resurrection, and is for us the epitome of it.

I am of course speaking of Our Blessed Lady, the holy Mother of God and Mother of the Church. She who is not only “our most gracious advocate”, but the “exemplary realization” of the Church; the “preeminent and wholly unique member” of the mystical body of Christ (LG 53; 63). Thus any authentic participation in the life of the Church, that is simply being a Christian in the truest sense, cannot set aside or water down Our Lady’s essential role. It is simply not possible to offer true worship to Almighty God and maintain a nonchalant attitude toward the person of the Blessed Mother, whose role in the salvation of mankind can neither be ignored nor reduced to mere circumstance. With Blessed Pope Paul VI we may say: “The active love she showed at Nazareth, in the house of Elizabeth, at Cana and on Golgotha—all salvific episodes having vast ecclesial importance—finds its extension in the Church’s maternal concern that all men should come to knowledge of the truth” (Marialis Cultus, 28).

And yet despite the somewhat obvious intrinsic nature of the role of the mother with the son, this has sadly been a cause of great dispute amongst Christians. It was not so in the early centuries of the Church’s life, but from the time of the Protestant reformation the Blessed Mother has been the subject of profanity and ridicule amongst some, and her role seemingly reduced to something more “palatable” by others. Yet for the authentic Christian, devotion to the Blessed Virgin can never be limited to the realm of personal piety or made anything less than what it truly is, because her relationship with Christ is so utterly ecclesial, so utterly linked to the sacrifice which he offered, that we can say one cannot have Christ without his Most Holy Mother. Indeed, “From the lips of her divine bridegroom, as he was dying, the Church received her as her very own most beloved mother”, and united us through our baptism to the entire communion of the Church, of which she is the first and pre-eminent member (Gloriosæ Dominæ, 2).

Regrettably we can often observe that an irreverence toward or timidity about the Mother of God exists particularly amongst those with a weak, even downright faulty ecclesiology or understanding of the Church. Any attempt to present the life of the body of Christ which does not recognize the true role of his mother cannot fully reflect the nature of Christ himself, and is thus (at best) an impoverished means of living the Christian life. The maxim filli matrizant—children resemble their mothers—is as true for us in the supernatural order as it is in the natural. Our recognition of the role of the Blessed Virgin in the salvation of our race, and thus as the first to know the joy of the resurrection, is itself an acknowledgement of the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

It is right, therefore, that in this month of May, dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God, we should take the opportunity to honour our Blessed Mother with a renewed outpouring of our love and devotion. She who was singularly united to the sufferings of Christ is, by those sufferings, the exemplar of the joy of his resurrection; she is the perfect guide to this Paschal season in particular and to the Christian life in general, pointing us always toward the beatific vision and the unending bliss of the life she now enjoys.

And it is particularly fitting that this encounter with the joy of the Blessed Virgin takes place within the context of our offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. This is the time and the place in which we are most united to her divine son (and so with her); when we come into the presence of Christ the Lord in his body, blood, soul, and divinity, and so glimpse in earth the reality of the worship of heaven. To seek to be close to the Mother of the Lord in the presence of her divine son bears no sense of contradiction nor divided loyalty, but presents us with a foretaste of the reality of heaven. In this we can say that her example, and indeed her very person, is a gift to us from Almighty God who “wished to make it easier for us to imitate [his goodness and love] by giving us as a model the human person of His Mother” (Signum Magnum, 2).

As, then, we prepare now to offer the gifts of bread and wine in the perfect oblation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, let us unite our human hearts to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mother of God. As she gave herself completely, to be one with the sacrifice of the Lord, let us seek to be one with her in this re-presentation of that offering, that united to her we may be one with Christ and that, in our worthy reception of the Lord’s body and blood, we might proclaim: “Hail true body, born of Mary […] O most kind! O gracious one! O sweetest Jesu, holy Mary’s son!”.