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Occasional Letter - Advent 2014(click to download PDF)

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The Rector writes ...   

The preface used at Mass in these final days before Christmas includes the phrase: “all the oracles of the prophets foretold him, the Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling”. What a concise and very beautiful summing up of the history of our salvation we have in those few words. God’s plan sought human co-operation at every stage as the long line of prophets stretching across the centuries moved steadily towards the ultimate revelation of the Divine nature in the Child of Bethlehem. St Luke has Elizabeth declare of Mary in this Sunday’s Gospel “of all women you are the most blessed”, and the early commentators on this passage underline the truth that Mary’s blessedness lies not so much in a biological fact but in her confident faith – “yes blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled”.

When the Preface tells us that the Mother of Jesus “longed for him with love beyond all telling” it offers an insight into Mary’s own consciousness. After the surprise of the Annunciation and the confirmation of her decision at the Visitation, the Blessed Virgin, like any other expectant mother, has months to reflect and plan as the mystery of new life is formed within her. The idea of Mary’s longing to see and hold the newly-born goes to the heart of what it means to be human: there is such tenderness and hope in that anticipation. Every birth is unique – we are not clones - but what will happen in the night at Bethlehem - "the still point of the turning world", in T S Eliot’s evocative phrase - will prove to be the fulcrum of history. “BC”, we say or “AD” – everything can only now be described through the prism of the Saviour’s incarnation.

Whereas the two middle Sundays of Advent have been dominated by the powerful figure of John the Baptist this fourth has Mary as its centrepiece. We know almost nothing about the Mother of Jesus, at least in terms of conventional biography - some basic facts can be assumed to which much speculation has been added – but all that is revealed in her Gospel appearances provides more than enough material to justify Elizabeth's judgement of her as “most blessed”. This is the one human being from whom God chose to take his DNA – it was from her flesh that he took his flesh: that loving acceptance, that inner dialogue of trust, tells us all that we really need to know. It is part of the Christian and Catholic instinct to find in Mary a touchstone of orthodox belief: whenever there has been controversy about the definition of the humanity and divinity of God’s Son his mother has had to be brought into focus: all the so-called Marian dogmas are in reality statements about the workings of grace which flow out from her Child – all that we can ever say about Mary is, at least potentially, true of any and all of the baptised: she offers the prototype of a redeemed humanity.

Mary is of course more than a theological symbol: she is a person and the respect which we accord her for her maternity develops naturally into the warmth of personal relationship. Karl Rahner, the German Jesuit who was such a formative influence in the Second Vatican Council expresses it like this: “there is no need for us to be nervous, sparing or niggardly when we honour Mary. It is the sign of a truly Catholic life when there grows to maturity in our hearts, slowly but genuinely, cultivated humbly and faithfully, a personal and tender love of the blessed Virgin”. There is so much around us at present which is hard and demanding, which raises anxiety and causes us to question – in Mary we are offered an alternative: something gentler and more tender, someone who only seeks to nurture and reassure. Jesus gifts her to each of us: “Behold, your Mother”.                                                                                          

Christopher Colven