St Mary in the Sabbath

Inset from the icon, “Captive Daughter of Zion” by Robert Lentz, OFM,
in the author’s icon corner and available here.

JMJ

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…”

Shabbat Shalom!