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Convocation AD 1999 - On True Marian Piety

Ave Maria! On True Marian Piety Delivered to the October 1999 Convocation of the Council

October is the month dedicated to our Blessed Virgin Mother under her title as "Lady of the Rosary" or "Queen of the Holy Rosary." Quite fittingly, the month begins with this feast of our Queen and closes with the feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday; thereby demonstrating the unbreakable bond between Jesus and Mary, Son and Mother, King and Queen.

Some time ago a woman was trying to describe another priest to me, and she used the adjective "Marian." "He is a Marian priest," she said. And I guess that adjective bothered me a bit because I have never been able to understand how any priest could fail to be "Marian." Priests, after all, are supposed to be "other Christs," who take the place of our Lord in bringing His truth and His Sacraments to His people, and in offering His Holy Sacrifice. Clearly, no one could be "another Christ" unless he had significant devotion to our Lord's Blessed Mother. Some priests may show this devotion more externally than others, and some may have it as a rather private affair -- but no man will be a priest for very long, or be a very good priest without Mary.

Apart from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there is no heart to which a priest can appeal and expect greater understanding than the Immaculate Heart of Mary. With the exception of His human soul, everything human in Jesus Christ came exclusively from Mary. When we speak of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces, we are speaking precisely of her priestly role as mediator between her Son and redeemed mankind.

As men, we priests may have some difficulty with piety that seems too feminine. Some of the aspirations of the saints -- particularly in the writings of holy women -- seem impossible for us to adopt as our own. Surely, we love God, but we still find it difficult (if not downright repugnant) to think of ourselves as brides and lovers of the Man Jesus Christ -- none of us is looking for a husband! But Mary fits nicely into a relationship with which we ought to feel comfortable, for no real man is ashamed to love his mother. And, if we love our Mother, we will have no trouble loving her Son; or, for that matter, her other sons and daughters.

In Mary every priest must see an exemplar, a model, a confidant, and a comrade -- for her life was one of humility and self sacrifice; a life of joy in the presence of Her Son; and a life also of sorrows at the knowledge that many would reject the love of Christ. Most to the point: Mary's life was defined in terms of bringing Jesus Christ into the world and of standing at the foot of His Cross to offer Him up in sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Now didn't I just describe the chief function of a priest? -- bringing Jesus Christ into the worldd, and offering Him up in sacrifice? When people debate the possibility of ordaining women, it invariably comes up that Jesus Christ ordained only men, even though in His own Mother he had the most perfect woman He could ever want to ordain. There is, of course, truth in this argument -- but I think it misses an important point -- for Mary's role was priestly. Obviously, she was not a son of Aaron, a member of the levitical priesthood of the Old Law, although what St. Luke tells us about the lineage of St. John the Baptist suggests that she was of the priestly family -- her cousin Elizabeth was the wife of a priest, and Jews strongly tended to marry within their own tribes.1 And we know that her Son did not ordain her to the priesthood of the New Law.

Does that mean that her role in life was not priestly? I think not. In the Old Testament we read of men who were priests, long before the ordination of Aaron and his sons. Three of them are mentioned every day in the Canon of the Mass: Abel the Just, Abraham, and Melchisedech. Abel was the first to offer an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord; Abraham was prepared to offer up his son in sacrifice; and Melchisedech is that king and priest whom St. Paul compares with Christ Himself, who offered a sacrifice of bread and wine.2 These men were forerunners of the Old Testament priesthood of Aaron, and ultimately of the Christian priesthood. I think it is proper to view Mary in a similar way, as a forerunner of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

One of the very few things held over from the disciplines of the Mosaic law by the Apostles was the prohibition against the drinking of blood.3 Actually, the prohibition predates Moses, having been given by God in the very brief statement of His law and covenant to Noe after the flood waters subsided.4 To this day, Jewish cooking often seems rather dry to non-Jews because it is cooked "well-done," so as to have no blood dripping from it. And the Apostles maintained this discipline, making it, at the Council of Jerusalem, one of the few things binding on gentile converts.

Yet, we hear directly from the mouth of our Savior:

...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has life everlasting, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.5

Which should, immediately prompt the question: How could a Jew, or a Christian for that matter, drink the blood of Christ if the drinking of blood was strictly prohibited?

Well, if we look at the prohibition from a slightly different perspective it might help. Undeniably, it was one of those dietary laws with the added benefit of keeping God's people healthy -- like not eating pork. But, in the eternal scheme of things, the prohibition of blood had another effect -- it set off the drinking of our Lord's precious blood in Holy Communion as a truly unique event. No other blood could be drunk, save that of our Lord.

It is my theory that Christ ordained no women to His priesthood in order to place the priestly actions of His blessed Mother in a similar position of exclusivity: Just as no God-fearing person would drink blood other than the life-giving blood of Jesus Christ; no woman other than Mary would be able to say those words that are so proper to her and so correct when she says them: "This is my body" (because It was her body); no other woman would be allowed to offer the sacrificial gift that was so truly hers.

Thus, Mary is truly the "Mother of Priests." And if ever we are tempted to take our priesthood lightly, we ought to try to put ourselves in her place. If, on some days, offering Mass has no great appeal to us, or even seems burdensome, we have only to reflect for a few moments on the life of Mary. Look and see how easy we have things by comparison:

  • Mary "knew not what manner of greeting this might be" from the Angel -- we have the luxury of being prepared with years of study.

  • We wear fine linen and silk, offering Mass in nicely appointed churches and chapels -- Mary wore the robes of poverty, and there was not even any room for her in the inn when she brought Christ into the world.

  • We bring Christ into the world by picking up a little wafer of bread and whispering a few words over it -- Mary brought Him into the world from the substance of her own body, and raised Him to manhood with the labors of a mother: the cooking and cleaning, the sewing and weaving, not to mention the apprehension and the worrying.

  • Most of us offer Christ in the re-presentation of the sacrifice on the Cross with great detachment; under sterile conditions, if you will; often we come away without having felt great emotion -- Mary offered her Son on the Cross with her whole soul, in the heat and the sweat of the day, surrounded by other dying men; with all the emotion that only a mother who has lost her only son can feel.

It is hard to imagine anyone being Christ-like without being "Marian." And we need to communicate this to our people -- by our preaching as well as our own good example, for this certainly applies to all of us; lay people as well as priests. If we think of the priest as taking the place of Christ at the altar, then we can think of everyone else in the church taking that Marian role as co-offerers of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. No one attending Holy Mass ought to think of himself as just an observer -- instead we unite ourselves with Jesus and Mary in offering the one and only pleasing gift to God the Father.