Showing posts with label blood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blood. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Off to Church again . . . Mary, Θεοτόκος, Mother of God

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! This morning I’m off to Mass with a lot to pray about, and also a lot of family and friends to hold up to the Father in Jesus' great Sacrifice of Love. 

In addition to being New Year’s Day, the 1st of January is for us the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Some Protestant brothers and sisters balk at this particular title of our Lady, until they discover that it was given to her by the early Church primarily as a way of safeguarding the truth about Jesus being both human and divine, God in human flesh.

There had been strange ideas floating around, in particular that Mary was the mother of a human baby who somehow became joined to God. This undermined the Biblical understanding of Jesus as ONE person with two natures. Some people even taught that the divine nature of Jesus didn’t come upon him until his baptism!

In contrast to these theories, the Church has always understood from the Scriptures that the divine and human natures of Jesus were united in his one person from the moment of of his conception, and that therefore the Baby to whom Mary gave birth was fully divine as well as fully human. God and man are perfectly joined in him. To emphasis this, the ancient Church called Mary “Mother of God” (“Theotokos” or “God-bearer”). 

As early as 500 AD there is evidence of the Eastern Church celebrating a “Day of the Theotokos” just before or just after Christmas. This eventually became a feast of our Lady on 26th December among the Byzantines, and 16th January among the Copts. By the 7th century the Western Church celebrated the octave day of Christmas with a strong emphasis on Mary, but this eventually gave way to the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus. It was in the eighteenth century that the Portuguese Church began to celebrate Mary’s “divine maternity”, on the first Sunday in May. The custom spread to other countries, and the feast - which came to be observed on 11th October – was mandated throughout the West in 1931.

It was Pope Paul VI, following the Second Vatican Council, who restored the Christmas Octave day to its Marian emphasis, though the theme of the Lord’s circumcision remains as well, so that we celebrate Jesus, truly God and truly man, as our only Saviour, who was born under the law that he might fulfill it, and who would shed his blood for our salvation.


Even during his Anglican years, John Henry Newman remarked that the popular exhibitions of devotion that so scandalized the English Protestant visitor to the continent, even with corruptions of  “excess” or “superstition”, were preferable to the arid indifference of the English laity and clergy.  After all, as Newman puts it, these devotions to Our Lady derived from the real (versus notional) idea that she was the Mother of God.

Later in his life, towards the end of his famous “Letter to Dr. Pusey” (p. 86) Newman wrote what I have heard called the most brilliant paragraph in all his work:

“And did not the All-wise know the human heart 
when He took to Himself a Mother?  
Did He not anticipate our emotion 
at the sight of such an exaltation 
in one so simple and so lowly?  
If He had not meant her to exert 
that wonderful influence in His Church, 
which she has in the event exerted, 
I will use a bold word, 
He it is who has perverted us.  
If she is not to attract our homage, 
why did He make her solitary in her greatness 
amid His vast creation?  
If it be idolatry in us to let our affections respond to our faith, 
He would not have made her what she is, 
or He would not have told us that He had so made her; 
but, far from this, 
He has sent His Prophet to announce to us, 
‘A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, 
and they shall call His name Emmanuel,’ 
and we have the same warrant for hailing her as God’s Mother, 
as we have for adoring Him as God.”


God of peace, 
whose providence guides the changing seasons of every year 
and of all our lives: 
in the fulness of time, you fashioned in the Virgin Mother Mary 
a dwelling place for your Word made flesh among us. 
Bless with the joy of your Holy Spirit 
the first day of this new year, 
that through all the days allotted to us, 
we may, like Mary, rejoice in grace and embrace your will. 
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(From Benedictine Daily Prayer,
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Resurrection of the Flesh and Holy Communion

This passage from St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (Against Heresies Lib. 5,2, 2-3: SC 153, 30-38) is set to be read today by those who use The Divine Office. Written around 185 AD, it is one of the classic passages on the Eucharist, giving what we might call "unintentional" evidence of the early Church's high view of the Sacrament. Irenaeus argues backwards from what he obviously regards as already traditional Christian teaching on the Eucharist to the salvation of the flesh and the resurrection of Jesus. This passage is particularly important because of how early it is in our “family history.” Irenaeus was a disciple of St Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of St John the Apostle.

If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.

We are his members and we are nourished by creatures, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall. He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord's own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God's gift of eternal life? Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of man, for spirits do not have flesh and bones. He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ's blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.

The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of man and when they receive God's word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God's power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Friday in the First Week of Lent

FIRST READING (Ezekiel 18:21-28)
Thus says the Lord: "If a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.

"Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

GOSPEL (Matthew 5:20-26)
Jesus said to his disciples, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire.

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny."

The Blood that brings life to the world.
Those of us in our late 50s who have been practising Christians for most of our lives have listened to at least 2,500 sermons. What experts we should be in things concerning the Christian Faith! For you as well as for me, however, just a few of those sermons remain in our minds and hearts as if we heard them yesterday. One such sermon bowled me over when I was a teenager. It gave shape to my lifelong meditation on so many aspects of God's revelation. The preacher (a retired missionary from China) spoke about "the scarlet cord" which runs through Scripture, binding it together - the Blood of Jesus which atones for our sins and brings us new life, and in the light of which we should read the Old Testament. Imagine my surprise when recently browsing through Alice Linsley's blog Just Genesis (one of the most worthwhile blogs there is, packed full of orthodox scholarship which is at the same time challenging and devotional) and finding - as if it were a summary of sermon notes made on that Sunday in 1967(!) - Alice's post The Scarlet Cord Woven Through the Bible. It is a fitting meditation for this Lenten Friday. I encourage you to go there, and - if you have time - to follow the links in the post, as well.

Be reconciled
(Word of Life Community)

(St Luke's REC)

To forgive does not mean to forget what has happened, but to shoulder the weight of another person's frailty or even another person's evil. St. Paul says, "Learn to carry one another's burdens." These burdens are often the failure of each of us to be worthy of our calling - our incapacity to love one another, to accept one another, to serve one another, to help one another on the way that leads to God. Let each of us pass a judgement on our whole soul, on our whole life, judge ourselves honestly, and ask forgiveness not only from God but from our neighbor, which is sometimes much harder than asking forgiveness from God.

We are all frail. We are all in need of support. Do we give this support to one another? Or do we choose those whom we want to support because we like them, because supporting them is a joy, because supporting them means that they also respond to us by gratitude, by friendship? Let us avoid seeking reasons not to forgive.

I remember a man who said to me, "I can forgive every person who has sinned against me, I can even love them, but I must hate the enemies of God." I thought of something which is told to us in the life of one of the saints, in which a priest was praying to God to punish those who betrayed Him by their lives if not by their words. And Christ appeared to him and said, "Never pray for the punishment or the rejection of any one. If there was only one sinner in the world, I would choose to be incarnate again, and again to die upon the cross for this only sinner."

Remember, if we do not forgive our brother, it is not only he who goes away with pain and tears in his heart, but we are wounded. If we do not forgive, we are ourselves not healed. The evil that occurred to us at the hands of another person remains with us, damaging our soul, destroying us.

Let us learn to forgive, so that others may be healed, but also that we may be healed ourselves. Come and bow down before the icon of Christ and of the Mother of God, and then turn to one another with the readiness to be forgiven and to forgive, whatever the cost to us.
(Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh from a Forgiveness Vespers sermon given in 1999)

We beseech thee O Lord,
let our hearts be graciously enlightened
by thy holy radiance,
that we may serve thee without fear
in holiness and righteousness
all the days of our life;
that so we may escape the darkness of this world,
and by thy guidance
attain the land of eternal brightness;
through thy mercy O blessed Lord,
who dost live and govern all things,
world without end. Amen.
From the Sarum Breviary of 1085