O Virgin

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.

JMJ

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.

O Virgin

+JMJ+

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

This Antiphon, from the Use of Sarum, is common among Anglo-Catholics. I’m not sure but maybe it has come to the Anglican Use Catholics as well. It’s not part of the traditional Roman use, but once upon a time there were other O Antiphons as well. The 6 or 7 we use are fine.

Let me make bold to offer a correction to the English of our accepted text here… not because it’s wrong in the translation, but because I think, for brevity’s sake, it misses the point. It may be singable, but that’s not what I want to do just now.

Try this:

The Daughters of Jerusalem say:
“O Virgin of virgins,
how shall this be?
For neither before was any like thee,
nor shall there be after.”
And Our Blessed Lady responds:
“Daughters of Jerusalem,
why marvel ye at *me*?
Divine is the Mystery you discern.”

That is what Our Lady does: she always points away from her self – to Christ. And she does so in the hymns of the Church as well, although common folklore can creep in and create a near goddess (as in the case with the Joy of All Who Sorrow icon, or the devotion to Our Lady Multiplier of Wheat) or a Perfect Mommy (as in some Latin and Mediterranean devotions). We can stretch it very far, though, before it breaks and, even in the most Mary-Centered moments, if we let her speak, she still points us towards her Divine Human Son.

Christmas is, of course, one of those moments. The Baby is easy to overlook while surrounded by all these adults. Mary is most evident: in the English mystery plays she even births the Child by herself while Joseph is out trying to find midwives. We can over-emphasise her place, to the point where, like the hymn, we seemingly mix the “mother and child” image into one of “Round yon Virgin”.

The iconic tradition is to always show her with her Child – although some more recent icons show her alone. The Western tradition seems to emphasise her virginity over and above all things while the Eastern seems to emphasise her role as the Birth-Giver of God. But the hymn has it right: “Round yon virgin mother… and child” Her virginity is good, yes, but meaningless without her motherhood and the reverse is equally true. It is not what or who she is that is important but rather what and who she is in relation to Christ that is important. This is true of all of us: none of us is anything save in relation to Christ. And no human being (even those who deny it) is without this relationship. For Human Nature is one in all of us including the God-Man (or God-Baby) Jesus.

Christ is the only way God makes himself known – all truth about God comes through Christ, the Law of Moses, the visit of Angels to Abraham, and even, according to St Justin, the True teachings of Socrates, Plato and so on (the Truth of Lao Tzu, of the Hopi, of anyone) is there to the degree that Christ revealed it. Without that Truth revealed in Christ there is no truth at all. The same is true of our relationships, of our humanity. We become fully who we are only in Christ. Mary is who she is only because of Christ. I will, God willing, one day become who God Created me to be – but only because of Christ. No one can be fully human with out that – because therein we find the true source of our Humanity.

Mary does, in this antiphon, exactly what our ancient spiritual ancestors, the Martyrs, did: rejecting all honours, forfeiting even what is rightfully hers to say, “This is a divine mystery, I have no crown but Christ. Look at my Son.” There, in her self-emptying which follows her Son’s own self-emptying, we find the one thing that we, too, must do: we must pour ourselves out, give ourselves away to make Him more present in our lives and to our neighbours.

The only Christmas Present is Christ given through yourself to another.

—————-

This is the last meditation in the Advent Series. Advent is over, but we’re not there yet. We have come to the cave, we now await only the miracle.

Apolytikion:
Be thou ready, Bethlehem, Eden hath opened unto all.
Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold,
the Tree of life hath blossomed forth
in the cave from the Holy Virgin.
Her womb hath proved a true spiritual Paradise,
wherein the divine and saving Tree is found,
and as we eat thereof we shall all live,
and shall not die as did Adam.
For Christ is born now
to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.

Kontakion:
On this day the Virgin cometh to a cave
to give birth to God the Word ineffable,
Who was before all the ages.
Dance for joy, O earth,
on hearing the gladsome tidings;
with the Angels and the shepherds
now glorify Him Who is willing
to be gazed on as a young Child
Who before the ages is God.

I thank you for joining me on these meditations. A blessed Christmas – Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

O Virgin – 8th Advent Meditation

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Why marvel ye at me?

Today, in the Byzantine Rite, is the Sunday before the Nativity and the Gospel assigned is that of the Genealogy of Jesus from Matthew.  It’s rough going for the Deacon reading because it’s one hard name after another.  I’m sure it’s equally fun in languages other than English.  In his sermon after, our Archdeacon touched on a lot of points but one struck me as the answer to “Why marvel ye at me?”  From Solomon’s adulterous parentage to slavery in Babylon, from Gentile  blood to Egyptian poverty, the ancestry of  Jesus has something to scandalize nearly every portion of the Roman world, and he was conceived out of wedlock!

Mary, in Orthodoxy, is sinless, but not without scandal. The family tree of Jesus is of royal lineage, but he’s not a direct heir to the throne.  He is of the House of David but only via cadency, He’s less royalty and more like all the folks who can claim Queen Victoria as a member of their family tree.  Mary is indeed a Marvel: fulfilling the prophecy without coming close to fulfilling the expectations. She is – just as her son is – exactly what was promised and not at all what anyone was looking for.

She, devoid of human value and without connections or power – and still the subject of gossip in the Talmud – is exactly perfect as the mother of the God who needs his diapers changed.

Her son will die a state-sponsored death as a condemned revolutionary, betrayed into the hands of a colonial power by his own people.  But that – as with Mary – is God showing us that nothing is out of his hands. The worse things we as humans can do to ourselves or others can, in his hands, become the salvation of the whole world.

Bread containing the dead skin flakes and sweat of you and me – both of us sinners – becomes the flesh of the God who needed his diapers changed by his sinless mother who was a scandal in her town.  God takes what we have.  Our cultural failures, our sins, our loss, our personal fouls and parking tickets, offered to God, become what saves us.

And sinners become divine.

Merry Christmas.