O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.
Sarum Use (the ancient liturgical of the Cathedral of Salisbury) has one extra Great O Antiphon, assigned to the Blessed Virgin. For this reason, while Catholics begin with O Sapientia on the 17th, Anglicans have, quite often, began on the 16th, so that O Virgo could be sung on the 23rd. This practice has fallen out of favour recently. The official C of E office book, Daily Prayer, follows the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. I have always liked the O Virgo and prefer to use it at least for this annual series of posts.
There are other O Antiphons as well. The Catholic Encylopedia notes:
but other medieval Breviaries added (1) “O virgo virginum quomodo fiet” etc., still retained in the Roman Breviary as the proper antiphon to the Magnificat in the second Vespers of the feast Expectatio Partus B. M. V. (18 December), the prayer of this feast being followed by the antiphon “O Adonai” as a commemoration of the ferial office of 18 December; (2) “O Gabriel, nuntius cœlorum”, subsequently replaced, almost universally, by the thirteenth-century antiphon, “O Thoma Didyme”, for the feast of the Apostle St. Thomas (21 December). Some medieval churches had twelve greater antiphons, adding to the above (1) “O Rex Pacifice”, (2) “O Mundi Domina”, (3) “O Hierusalem”, addressed respectively to Our Lord, Our Lady, and Jerusalem. Guéranger gives the Latin text of all of these (except the “O Mundi Domina”), with vernacular prose translation (“Liturgical Year”, Advent, Dublin, 1870, 508-531), besides much devotional and some historical comment. The Parisian Rite added two antiphons (“O sancte sanctorum” and “O pastor Israel”) to the seven of the Roman Rite and began the recitation of the nine on the 15th of December.
Catholics are often accused of worshipping Mary as a Goddess. I get the reasoning, even though I disagree. There is nothing said about Mary (other than naming her Mother of God) that cannot be said in a way about all Christians. Her role is special, though, in that she bore the graces of the faith by God’s grace alone, rather than through sacramental participation in Christ.
If mankind is seen as fallen (and what needs to be forgotten to not see that?) then Mary’s sinless status must be seen as a restoration of her – along – to that state humanity enjoyed before the Fall. We cannot imagine what all that entails! Unbroken communion with God and a full and total detachment from the things of this world, from all venial and mortal sins; from undue attachment to anything that would destroy her Communion. She lives in this intimacy constantly and, although it doesn’t make her a Goddess, it does elevate her far beyond the status of daily mundanity. Her prayers are efficacious because of her relationship with her son, and because of this constant communion.
For God’s incarnation among us, the Earth offers a cave, the animals their stall, the angels their song, but humanity offers the Blessed and All-Pure Virgin. The titles awarded to Mary by the Church (East and West) are without number. She is the finest offering of our humanity to God. And yet her humility is endless for she knows that even so she is only worthy by God’s grace, only able by his strength, to do what must be done.
We are not to marvel at her. Everything Mary does points to God. Her Immaculate Conception is the grace of Baptism. Her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit (and again at Pentecost) is the Confirmation which we all enjoy. Her burial and assumption is the same death we will all undergo, her coronation is the promise of our eternal glory. Her intercession is the grace of prayer in which we all participate. Even her virginal conception is echoed in our participation in the Holy Mass and the reception of the Sacred Mysteries which bring infinity into us, making us – like her – to be “more spacious than the heavens.” This is “a divine mystery”. She begs us not to marvel at her but at God’s grace in her life and in ours.
This is the position of the Christian before God: to accept even a final “well down” as underserved save by God’s grace for without him we can do nothing; but with him all things are possible. Nothing we do should point to us but rather to God’s grace active in our lives.
The manger, the cross, the grave, and the tomb, these are the signposts that bring us all through our lives to God. Mary walks with us – prays with us – along this same way, but she has already walked it. God, her son, knows this way intimately.