IN THE WESTERN DAILY OFFICE and Mass there is a tradition of commemorating the Blessed Virgin on Saturdays outside of Lent. There are propers for the office as well as for votive Masses offered on these days. In the older Western Rite, this commemoration began with Vespers on Friday night with a special hymn and prayer, it included readings in the Night Office, and then special hymnody and prayer at Lauds on Saturday morning. This tradition dates back to at least the Tenth Century, but it may be earlier. A form of this may be familiar to the reader as the First Saturdays Devotion. There are a number of ideas about why Marian Saturdays might have happened and also a number of ideas about “What it means”. You can read some of them here or here. This post is only a meditation on the fittingness of the idea: I’m not being a historian here but rather meditating on Mary and the Sabbath together. BY way of warning, I’m crossing the streams again: today it’s Byzantine and Western liturgy plus the Jewishness of Mary and Jesus. (I love the icon of the Captive Daughter of Zion that heads this post: the artist has created a visual map of this meditation.)
First, it’s important to see the Sabbath clearly: it’s not just a negative prohibition against work. God rested on the Sabbath Day. The invitation is not to “don’t do that” but rather to “be like God”. In fact, if you read the Genesis account carefully Man and Woman are created on the 6th Day, God says, “your job will be as gardeners” and then Day 1 of their job is the Sabbath! Your job starts today so take a break… In very real ways, the Sabbath is not “the Weekend” for man: rather it’s the beginning. (Yes, it’s Day Seven for God.)
Far from being prohibited to “do anything”, Adam and Eve are starting from a place of trust. Humanity’s assigned place at the pinnacle of Creation begins with a resting moment of contemplation which they share with God. God is Father who provides: man needs to trust in God, not in the labor of his own hands. Yes, we have work to do but in due time, not now. Sit. Breath. Trust.
In the Liturgical East, the Great Sabbath is the day before Pascha. This also comes from Judaism where the Great Sabbath (Hebrew: Shabbat HaGadol) is the Sabbath that occurs before Passover (Hebrew: Pesach). On this day is commemorated the descent of Jesus into Hell as Jesus’ body rests in the tomb of St Joseph. It’s this resting in the tomb that’s seen as a typological fulfilment of the Sabbath.
Using the same typological reading of Sabbath rest, let’s spin the clock backward: as God-Made-Man, Jesus must recapitulate all of humanity’s journey and so – as with Adam and Eve – Jesus begins his “job” as redeemer resting in the womb of Mary for nine months. Mary is – in her very self as Mother of God – a type of the Sabbath. To commemorate Mary on the Sabbath is to commemorate the Sabbath on Sabbath! As was mentioned at the top of the post, the devotion used to begin on Friday night at Vespers (that is, sunset). It makes each “Weekend” a beginning: for to start with the Divine Rest, and then to celebrate the Resurrection on the First Day was a real beginning. As my pastor says, “I can’t think of a better way to start the week…”
Postquam impleti sunt dies purgationis ejus secundum legem Moysi, tulerunt illum in Jerusalem, ut sisterent eum Domino et ut darent hostiam secundum quod dictum est in lege Domini, par turturum, aut duos pullos columbarum. After the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; and to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. In becoming Man, God had to enter Time and Space at one point, and be like us, born of a woman, born between blood and filth. O admirábile commércium: Creátor géneris humáni, animátum corpus sumens, de Vírgine nasci dignátus est; et procédens homo sine sémine, largítus est nobis suam Deitátem. O wondrous interchange! * the Creator of mankind, taking upon him a living body, vouchsafed to be born of a pure Virgin: and by his Humanity, which was begotten in no earthly wise, hath made us partakers of his Divinity. There are two ways Jesus fulfills the law of Moses: as a pious Jew he – together with his parents – performs the requirements. (Worth noting, in Jesus’ time, the Rabbis had not decided that Cheeseburgers were bad. Jesus could have had a cheeseburger. Bacon, though, and shrimp: right out.) Later in his life he takes on the duties of an adult male Jew, taking sides in rabbinic debates, and offering his own interpretations (you have heard said… but I say to you…) Make of his failures in this context what you will, but you can read Jesus as a faithful Jew, trying his best to fulfill the Legem Moysi and nothing else. Rubum, quem víderat Móyses incombústum, conservátam agnóvimus tuam laudábilem virginitátem: Dei Génetrix, intercéde pro nobis. In the bush which Moses saw unconsumed, we recognize the preservation of thy glorious virginity: holy Mother of God, intercede for us. But there is another way to fulfill the Law of Moses: If you take an expensive, cut crystal decanter and fill it up with a rare cognac, then you have not only used the bottle for its intended purpose, but you have enriched it, made more than it was set to be. It is fulfilled by having it’s real purpose enhanced. The cognac and the decanter are made together more beautiful. The Law of Moses was made by God to prepare the world for Jesus the Messiah. The entire tradition (from Abraham forward) of Offering the First Born Son as sacred to God was a foreshadow of Christ. The Exodus people makes the real exodus not leaving Egypt but leaving Sin. The patterns of worship, of culture, even, that laid the foundation for the teachings of Messiah, were put there by God for that very purpose. If the Messiah is a fine diamond, freshly cut and many faceted, the entirety of the world in which he was raised is the setting. He is the cognac in the decanter but he decanter is very needed. Worth noting: the Seder that we have today in even the most traditional Passover rites, performed in the home evolved into their current form between 500 and 800 AD. The rite many Churches perform in Holy Week would look alien to Jesus and his friends. Germinávit radix Jesse, orta est stella ex Jacob: Virgo péperit Salvatórem; te laudámus, Deus noster. The Root of Jesse hath budded, the Star hath come out of Jacob, the Virgin hath borne the Saviour: we praise thee, O our God. Christ, the Paschal Lamb, slain from the foundations of the world: meaning that everything that looks like Jesus is, in fact, and echo of the archetype in eternity. Jesus, the light of the world, is not hid under a bushel, but he is placed on the lampstand of Moses and the Prophets. Jesus submits to the yoke of the law which he himself wrote so that he can make its real meaning known even as a voiceless baby, living in the world he created. Senex Púerum portábat, Puer autem senem regébat: quem virgo péperit, et post partum virgo permánsit: ipsum quem génuit, adorávit. The old man held his Lord in his arms in the form of a little child, but the Child was the old man’s King even that Child whom a virgin bore, and remained a virgin as before the fruit of her womb, and the God of her soul. (These antiphons come from the traditional office for the feast…)