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Sunday, 20 December 2009

'Jesus Christ, God made Man, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary'

With Christmas almost upon us it seems fitting to address our thoughts to Mary, the holy virgin Mother of Jesus Christ.
         In pre-Reformation Catholic England, devotion to the Virgin Mary was an integral part and parcel of people's faith and  lives.  Referring to England of those times in his book  'Our Lady's Dowry', Father Bridgett C.SS.R  describes how  'devotion to Our Lady had the time, space and opportunity to work out its results thoroughly in England;  which devotion sprang from a lively faith in the Incarnation, and in its turn acted as the safeguard of that faith;  how it was an exercise and a stimulant of Christian hope whether in the sinner or the saint, looking as they did on our Lady as the great channel of the mercies of God purchased for us by Jesus Christ;  how it is one of the noblest acts of that charity which makes us love what God loves, and how it led to innumerable works of love and mercy to men; how it gave a charm and attraction to the Christian heart, without in any way substituting mere poetry and sentimentalism for solid virtue'.

Even writers who had least sympathy with the Catholic faith, openly praised the effect of this devotion to our Lady, in developing respect for women.

A certain Mr Lecky in his 'History of Rationalism' wrote:-

'The world is governed by its ideals, and seldom or never has there been one which has exercised a more profound and, on the whole, a more salutory influence than the mediaeval conception of the Virgin. For the first time woman was elevated to her rightful position, and the sanctity of weakness was recognised as well as the sanctity of sorrow.  No longer the slave or the toy of man, no longer associated only with ideas of degradation and of sensuality, woman rose in the person of the Virgin Mother into a new sphere, and became the object of a reverential homage of which antiquity had no conception.  The moral charm and beauty of female excellence was, for the first time, felt. A new type of character was called into being, a new kind of admiration fostered.  Into a harsh and ignorant and benighted age this ideal type infused a conception of gentleness and purity unknown to the proudest generations of the past.  In the pages of living tenderness which many a monkish writer has left in honour of his celestial patron; in the millions who, in many lands and in many ages, have sought, with no barren desire, to mould their characters into her image; in those holy maidens who, for the love of Mary, have separated themselves from all the glories and pleasures of the world, to seek, in fastings and vigils and humble charity, to render themselves worthy of her benediction;  in the new sense of honour, in the chivalrous respect, in the softening of manners, in the refinement of tastes displayed in all the walks of society;   in these, and in many other ways, we detect its influence.  All that was best in Europe clustered around it, and it is the origin of many of the purest elements of our civilisation'.  

The 19th century in England brought  Catholic emancipation involving considerable public controversy, particularly following the dogmatic papal  decrees of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and Papal Infallibility (1870).  These were strongly condemned by,  among others, the Rt Hon W.E.Gladstone in his book 'The Vatican Decrees', who stated that 'the growth of what is often termed among Protestants 'Mariolatry' was notoriously advancing of late years, and that the recent papal decrees were deadly blows at the old historic, scientific, and moderate school, and an act of violence'. On the other hand, he also stated  that 'in days within his own memory, the constant, favourite, and imposing argument of Roman controversialists was the unbroken and absolute identity in belief of the Roman Church from the days of our Saviour until now'. 

Fr Bridgett comments that it is certainly not true that 'Rome has substituted for the proud boast of 'semper eadem' a policy of violence and change of faith, and it assuredly ill befits those who accept the inheritance of Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth, to make charges so easy of crushing retort'. 

Furthermore Fr Bridgett continues, 'Could our ancestors, whether Saxon or Norman, rise up at the present day, they would have to make no change of faith, and do no violence to their own feelings, in accepting either the Vatican decrees or any dogmatic decree that has ever issued from the Apostolic Chair of St Peter.  But seeing the face of England, and the ruins of all the things they loved, they would indeed lament that England had substituted for her proud boast of being our Lady's Dowry, a policy of violence and change of faith.' 
Fr Bridgett quotes the following prayer of St Anselm, the great and saintly Archbishop of Canterbury in the 11th century, and inviting the reader to repeat this prayer suggests that in reading it he will have no difficulty in recognising the faith and devotion of the Archbishop of Westminster of the 19th century.
                               Prayer of St Anselm (11th century)

      ' Of a certainty, O Jesus, Son of God, and thou, O Mother Mary, you desire that whatever you love should be loved by us. Therefore, O good Son, I beg Thee, by the love Thou bearest Thy Mother, and as Thou wishest her to be loved, to grant to me that I may truly love her.  And thou, O good Mother, I beg thee by the love thou bearest thy Son, as thou wishest Him to be loved, to pray for me that I may truly love Him. Behold I ask nothing that is not in accordance with your will. Since then, this is in your power, shall my sins prevent its being done? O Jesus, lover of men, Thou wert able to love criminals even so as to die for them; canst Thou then, refuse me, who ask only the love of Thee and Thy Mother? And thou too, Mary, Mother of Him who loved us, who didst bear Him in thy womb, and feed Him at thy breast, art thou not able, or not willing,  to obtain for one who asks it,  the love of thy Son and of thyself?  O, may then my mind venerate you both as you deserve! may my heart love you, as it is right it should! may my body serve you, as it ought! in your service may my life be spent! and may my whole substance praise you in eternity!  Blessed be God for ever.  Amen, amen.'

             Wishing you peace and happiness for Christmas and the New Year.


Anonymous said...

Brian, thank you for this wonderful Christmas post. A blessed Christmas and a happy New Year to you and your family.

In the hearts of Jesus and Mary,


umblepie said...

Many thanks David, for your comment.
Good to hear from you, I regularly peruse your excellent blogsite. Best wishes to you and your family for the New Year. Brian. said...

Happy New Year 2010.