Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Some years as a member of the Legion of Mary has inscribed on my heart the beautiful antiphon of the Catena Legionis which is said every day by Legionaries. It reads: Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?
These words are borrowed from the Song of Songs (6:10) and the liturgy applies them to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The demons are terrified of this woman, they run from her and, as the exorcists tell us, they dare not even pronounce her name. To them she is terrible as an army set in battle array; she makes them quake in fear. Do you know why?
The Jerusalem Bible translation is intriguing and helpful: Who is this arising like the dawn, fair as the moon, resplendent as the sun, terrible as an army with banners? Yes, an army with banners; and on each of these banners blazes a word abhorrent to Satan – humility, obedience, love, mercy, recollection, purity, peace, compassion, adoration, faithfulness, light. On and on it goes … and Satan flees in terror.
Another arresting aspect of this delightful line from the Song of Songs is the almost haunting question ‘Who is she…?' with which it begins. This question has drawn Christians down the centuries to deepest contemplation while the Church herself strives to penetrate the mystery of God’s action in this humble maiden who gave birth to the Redeemer.
Who is she? The first answer to this question is: She is the Mother of God. It is her Motherhood, the greatest of her privileges, which attracts to Mary all the other graces associated with her; chiefly – her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual Virginity and her Assumption into heaven.
The second answer to this question must always be: She is my Mother, too. If Mary can be set among the stars, standing on the moon and clothed with the sun, in recognition of her cosmic status as Mother of the Saviour, she can be as easily set on a dusty road in Galilee, pushing open the door of her cousin Elizabeth’s house, or standing under the Cross of her agonising Son. Mary knows us; she knows our name and our needs and does not hesitate to 'stoop' to our necessities.
Mary is the Mother of Jesus and she is our Mother too; this is the rôle God has assigned to her and for this reason, because she is an essential part of God’s redemptive plan, we honour her not out of a kind of ‘optional’ devotion but from the heart of the Catholic Faith. Devotion to Mary does not start ‘in us’ but in God's Will.
If we wish to sing the praises of the God who saved us we must sing the praises of Mary through whom he chose to do so by making her the Mother of the Saviour. If only this were better understood, especially by those so-called ‘mature and adult’ Catholics who no longer desire to know her and honour her.
Some years ago I had the pleasure of standing at the top of Niagara Falls watching the thundering waters pouring over the cliffs into the depths below. To me it was an image of how grace pours into Mary’s soul, freely and abundantly, making her the Mother of God.
But these waters did not just pile up below; they flowed out for the benefit of others, for your benefit and mine. Mary does not hoard grace; she passes on to her children what she receives from God because she is truly our Mother.
This ‘letting go’ of Mary included even the God-given gift of her divine Son. If St Paul can say: Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give (Rm 8:32); then surely we can say: ‘Since Mary did not spare her own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that she will not refuse anything she can give.'
All that Mary receives from God she passes on to us, to the extent that we are willing to receive and respond to these gifts of grace. Even here she comes to help us. As she formed Jesus in herself so she will, if we ask her, form him in us.
Let me conclude in a very practical way. If you really wish Mary to be your Mother on your journey through life, so that you may reach heaven your goal, then don’t get into bed tonight, on this first day of the New Year, without having given yourself to her to be her child. Kneel down and say, ‘Mary, all that I am and have is yours. I belong to you. I am your child. Please be my Mother and keep me safe for heaven.’