O Mary, conceived with0ut sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
“It is first of all necessary to let the Blessed Virgin Mary take one by the hand to contemplate the face of Jesus. Mary gives us eyes and a heart that can contemplate her Son in the Eucharist.”
~ Pope Benedict XVI
Mary was “Blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing,” (cf. Eph 1:3) chosen by God from all eternity to be the Mother of the Redeemer. So, ask her to take you by the hand because it is she who leads us to Jesus. Then we may contemplate, together with her, His Holy Face–in His Word, in the Eucharist, and in our neighbor. As the Immaculate Conception, Mary bears in herself the most perfect reflection of the Face of God. Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “The Blessed Virgin saw shining upon her, as no other creature, the face of the Father, rich in grace and mercy.”
This Advent, let us fix our gaze on Jesus and Mary rather than on the profane things of the world. We keep Mary before our eyes in order to contemplate in her everything that is good and true and beautiful — She is “God’s Mirror.” “She is the proclamation of a merciful God who does not surrender to the sin of his children,” Pope St. John Paul II tells us “in Mary shines forth God’s sublime and surprising tenderness for the entire human race. In her, humanity regains its former beauty and the divine plan is revealed to be stronger than evil…” In Mary “the Creator has kept the original beauty of creation uncontaminated” so that in the Immaculate Conception, “the Father’s original, wondrous plan of love was reestablished in an even more wondrous way.”
And in Her Morning
The Virgin Mary cannot enter
my soul for an indwelling. God alone
has sealed this land as secretly His own;
but being mother and implored, she comes
to stand along my eastern sky and be
a drift of sunrise over God and me.
God is a light and genitor of light.
Yet for our weakness and our punishment
He hides Himself in midnights that prevent
all save the least awarenesses of Him.
We strain with dimmed eyes inward and
no stir of what we clamored to believe.
Yet I say: God (if one may jest with God),
Your hiding has not reckoned with Our Lady
who holds my east horizon and whose glow
lights up my inner landscape, high and low.
All my soul’s acres shine and shine with her!
You are discovered, God; awake, rise
out of the dark of Your Divine surprise!
Your own reflection has revealed Your place,
for she is utter light by Your own grace.
And in her light I find You hid within me,
And in her morning I can see Your Face.
~Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD (Jessica Powers)
She was sent by God to defeat the culture of death at that time in Mexico. Like the “Woman” in Revelation, “clothed in the sun, with moon at her feet,” on December 9, 1531, she appeared to a poor man of no importance or influence, one of Mary’s “little ones,” Juan Diego. The beautiful young woman, whose clothing indicated that she was pregnant, called him by name as a mother would, “Juanito” – “little Juan.” She spoke to Juan:
“I want you to know for certain, my dear son, that I am the perfect and always Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God from Whom all life comes, the Lord of all things, Creator of heaven and earth.”
Our Lady to Juan Diego
She is also our Mother — each of us is also her child. Mary says to Juan, “Am I not here, who am your Mother?” As great as was Mary’s longing and anticipation to see the face of her little Jesus, great too, is Mary’s longing to see the face of her Son Jesus reproduced in us. Through love, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s virginal womb, and this is also how Jesus is formed in us as members of His mystical body – by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary — If we stay close to Mary, He will come and dwell in us, hidden, to be born in our hearts, to suffer, die, and one day rise to eternal life with Him. Come, Lord, Jesus!
“By the presence of Mary, you made the desert bloom with flowers, – may the Blessed Virgin Mary’s love transform us into the image of Christ, her Son. Amen.”
During Advent the Church celebrates the longing to see God’s Face, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a Triduum (three days of prayer beginning on December 15) and a Feast (on December 18th)–It is calledThe Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Longing to See His Face.(a bit of the history may be found here.) The prayer may also be continued until Christmas.
Prayer for the Triduum and Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Longing to See His Face
“Mary, your life with Jesus was one of the purest, most fervent, most perfect emotions of longing and most eager expectation of the Birth of the Divine Child! How great must have been that longing! You were longing to see the Face of God and to be happy in the vision. You were soon really to see the Face of God, the created image of divine perfection, the sight of which rejoices heaven and earth, from which all being derive life and joy; the Face whose features enraptured God from all eternity, the Face for which all ages expectantly yearned. You were to see this Face unveiled, in all the beauty and grace as the face of your own child.
Most just indeed it is, O Holy Mother of God, that we should unite in that ardent desire which you had to see Him, who had been concealed for nine months in your chaste womb; to know the features of this Son of the heavenly Father, who is also your own; to come to that blissful hour of His birth, which will give glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will. Yes, dear Mother, the time is fast approaching, though not fast enough to satisfy your desires and ours. Make us re-double our attention to the great mystery; complete our preparation by your powerful prayers for us, so that when the solemn hour has come, our Jesus may find no obstacle to His entrance into our hearts. Amen.” (Prayer by Rev. Lawrence Lovasik, S.V.D.)
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee
Why is it that Catholics travel great distances to shrines of Our Lady collecting holy cards, statues, or medals with her images? Non-Catholics will scratch their heads, or frown on what they believe is misplaced devotion meant only for God. But just as it is only natural for a child to seek and long for the faces of their mother and father whom they love, we too seek and long for the Face of the Father, being made in His image and likeness, and also search for the loving face of Our Mother, given to us by Jesus from the Cross, so that she may help form us into the image of her Son Jesus Christ.
Every image of Our Lady comes with a title that reveals a particular aspect of her love and intercession for her children in need: Our Lady of the Rosary, Mother of Perpetual Help, Mother of Divine Grace, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, etc. A list of her images and titles gathered from all over the world may number in the thousands, but the oldest known image is said to date back to the first century, originating from the Holy Land or Syria. It is an icon that, tradition tells us, was painted by St. Luke himself in encaustic, an ancient painting technique with hot wax and resin. Brought to Rome to save it from destruction during the iconoclasm of the Eastern Church, it is a treasure that has been hidden away for centuries. Although the fragile linden wood icon is now worm-eaten and crumbling, the face of the Blessed Mother remains, and it is exquisite! She is known by a very unusual name — the “Advocata Nostra,” Our Lawyer.
Our Lawyer? It may seem an odd title; however, the name “Advocata” or lawyer is most fitting. Mary, as Spouse of the Holy Spirit the Advocate, undoubtedly received even greater gifts of the Holy Spirit as she prayed in the midst of the Apostles at Pentecost, she herself becoming an advocate for the children of God.
The rich history of the icon includes Pope Sergius III moving the beloved image from a small chapel known as Santa Maria in Tempuli in Italy, only to have the icon miraculously return to its original place. In 1221, when the nuns of the monastery were to be moved to another community at San Sisto, they hesitated to leave, and would only go on the condition that the icon of Our Lady go with them. There was great concern that the image would again return on its own to Santa Maria in Tempuli. However, the famous St. Dominic, who we have to thank for the traditional Rosary to Our Lady, solved the difficulty by carrying the image in his arms in procession to its new home where it remained until 1575. It was later relocated again, always remaining under the care of the Dominicans. The chronicle of Sr. Salomona, recorded, in 1656, that the image had been painted in the Upper Room by St. Luke, following the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She now intercedes for us as Mother of the Church before the throne of God in an unprecedented way as “Advocata” — the one who defends or pleads the cause of another — their champion.
This beautiful icon of the Blessed Mother “Advocata” was first brought to my attention by the German journalist Paul Badde. Paul is not only a journalist but also an art historian — and a bit of a detective — diligently sifting through ancient clues to discover anew precious treasures that have been hidden for centuries, sometimes under our very noses, such as the Veil of Manoppello. Ever since Paul sent me a photo of the “Advocata Nostra,” I have been captivated by her beauty, strength, and loving maternal gaze. There are many copies of the painting in the churches and museums of Europe, but only one original, which exceeds all others in beauty, and like all precious treasures, it was not easy to find. Paul’s search actually began when he was a correspondent in Jerusalem, when a monk from Mount Zion recommended that he look in Rome for the image of Our Lady painted by St. Luke. Paul’s account of his own search for this hidden jewel of an icon may be found in this German article, Der Schatz von Monte Mario. (I have also added a “Google” translation from the original German article below, but hope readers can get a good sense of the article none the less.)
Paul discovered, however, that finding such a buried treasure in Rome was like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. No one had ever heard of the cloistered Dominican convent of St. Mary of the Rosary, where the original icon was said to be found; all inquiries met dead ends. Paul, together with his wife Ellen, with few clues, wandered long up the steep winding Roman streets, and had nearly given up their search just five minutes away from their goal. But, as Paul relates in his article: a hidden inscription on the roadside led to a locked gate of the monastery on Monte Mario. Once inside the door of the ancient, decaying church, from behind the cloister grill the sound of singing greeted them as they entered the sunlit interior of the church. Through another heavy iron grill they could see a painting of Our Lady, with a seemingly sorrowful aspect, surrounded by the precious stones, jewels, gold and rosaries left by pilgrims. Soon, Paul heard a soft voice speak from behind the picture, “One moment!…wait.” Two small windows to the right and left of the painting unfolded, the the whole frame began to move, and was turned from behind, revealing that the jewel encrusted image that they first saw was actually the back of the true icon of the “Advocata” now before their eyes. Paul described the icon of “our lawyer of God” as “breathtakingly beautiful!”
In the fifth century the icon of Our Lady was described in an epistle of Bishop Epiphanios of Cyprus: “It was of medium size…and her complexion was that of a wheat grain. “She has amber eyes, dark brows, pupils like olives, a slender nose and rose-colored mouth.” While later icons of the Blessed Mother portrayed her together with the child Jesus as “Mother of God,” in this icon, although Jesus is not seen, her hands indicate both her intercession for us, and “the way” to her Son. Paul Badde reminded me that the Latin verb ad-vocare means call over or summon in English. “So, the Advocata is the one who is there when you call her.” She is cloistered behind the grate — in the world but not of the world — and together with the Dominican nuns, our “Advocata” will forever plead our cause before the Face of God, if only we call on her and seek our Mother’s face.
“Advocata Nostra” Photo: Paul Badde/EWTN
Salve Regina – Hail, Holy Queen
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee to we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Below is a translation of Paul Badde’s original article from the German. Please forgive the imperfection of translation, but I hope the reader will get a sense of this wonderful article by Paul Badde
The treasure of Monte Mario (Original Article In German – here)
Published on 03.01.2007 | Reading time: 8 minutes, By Paul Badde
At an almost forgotten Roman monastery, our correspondent discovered a century-old icon of Mary. It is supposed to be the legendary portrait of the Mother of God, which Luke, the evangelist, painted on the cross after Jesus’ death.
The “Advocata” is not a lawyer in the usual sense, but an ancient picture on fragile, worm-eaten wood. Still, I discovered her when I needed a lawyer again. The phone rang as I stood in front of her, and I turned it off immediately. Otherwise no noise disturbed us. Years before I had decided to visit this picture as soon as I came to Rome, since Bernhard Maria, a monk from Mount Zion, had recommended it to us in Jerusalem. Just then, in a crooked house behind the Armenian quarter, we discovered a dark image of Mary on deerskin, of which the Syrian archpriest assured that it was from Luke, the evangelist, himself. Was not the claim ridiculous? “Oh, a Lukas icon”, Bernhard Maria only smiled.
He knew twelve such pictures, having seen them personally and by hearsay, of which the most venerable was to be in Rome, in a monastery on Monte Mario.
Of course, nobody in Rome knew anything I asked when we arrived, nor did I find a photo of it. No travel guide had the picture in the program, even the worldwide network gave no information. The Advocata simply could not be found.
I had almost forgotten about it when last year an email appeared on my screen in which a friend from Aachen wrote to me: “For Christmas I will send you this beautiful icon (from the Rosary Monastery on Monte Mario). I found it in the ‘Seven Luke Icons of Rome’, by Salesia Bongenberg from Fulda, left to me by a priest friend. She greets you from her other world. Could you use it? “Attached was a photo in which one could distinguish, in spite of the advanced deterioration of the wood, only the face and one hand of the Madonna. Above the image was written: ” Advocata – summoned “.
But not even the small book, which was in my mailbox a week later, was the address of the Rosary Monastery, nor did the telephone book help us, nor our pastor, nor any taxi driver. So we sat down somewhere on the long Via Trionfale on Monte Mario.
It was here that the Emperor Constantine saw a monogram of Christ in the evening sky up here on October 27, 312, before beating the army of his opponent Maxentius the next day down the Milvian Bridge under the same “Sign of the Cross”.
But now not even a Carmelite along the Via Trionfale had ever heard of the Dominican convent of St. Mary of the Rosary in the neighborhood, where the oldest icon of the city is supposed to be found. We gave up. “Let’s go back!” My wife said.
Still, five minutes later we found ourselves in front of the monastery. A hidden inscription on the roadside, next to a locked gate, above a decaying Baroque church, between the trees, behind walls. At the back of the complex another door, also closed, but with a bell. “Ave Maria,” a voice from the intercom announced. No, no, we could not go to church right now. The house was a enclosed cloister for eternal prayer, and its inhabitants lived behind their self-imposed bars.
But, we could come the next morning. As of seven o’clock in a side wall, a steel door was open for visitors for Mass at half past seven.
The next morning, sun was filtering into the church. From the left of the altar, the singing of some voices were heard through a barred window. Next to it, through another heavy iron grille, is the image of the Madonna that we have been searching for so long. She looks sad, in the shadow of the overflowing jewelry with which pilgrims and devotees have surrounded her: with gold, precious stones, rosaries. “One moment!”, I hear a soft voice behind the picture, “wait!” On the left and right next to the Madonna, two small little windows unfold, then the whole frame starts to move and is turned from behind. The generously decorated image was the back, and it was just a copy of the true “Advocata” .
The image itself, on the other hand, is at home on the side of the monastery, which has become a human vault. Now it turns to us, without any decoration of jewelry. A small lamp illuminates it from above. The icon is about 60 cm wide and 90 cm high. Fine cracks run through the warm complexion of the Madonna’s skin, and the coral-red lips, broken by many small areas that have been restored. The remainder was unable to be saved. Only this face has maintained itself in incomparable splendor between all decay and dissolution, infinitely familiar. Like the mother’s round face, meeting the gaze of her infant as she bends over Him for the first time. She does not look sad. Her hands are covered with gold and point to the right, as if to indicate one way.
It is the first representation of Mary that the Russians call “Rimskaya” (The Roman) or “Liddskaja” (The one from Lydda). Rome is the only place, along with Sinai, where images have been found that have survived the iconoclasm of the Eastern Church. However it is in Lydda, today’s Lod, at the Ben-Gurion Airport between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, of which it is said that the first image of Mary appeared during her lifetime, as stated in a letter from three patriarchs to Emperor Theophilus in 833.
“It was of medium size,” says another Epistle of Bishop Epiphanios of Cyprus in the 5th century, “and her complexion was that of a wheat grain.” She has amber eyes, dark brows, pupils like olives, a slender nose and a rose-colored mouth.
He could not have seen her in person; However, he could have seen this image and the soul-soothing gaze of those eyes. But where?
In Rome, several trails lead to some images with exactly the same posture – which, however, make it clear that no other can match this image. They must all be copies, and only this is the original. Of all these family of images only the “Advocata” is painted with wax, that is: “encaustic”, in an ancient painting technique with hot wax and resin, whose secret was lost forever in the 7th century. Most likely, therefore, it resembles some mummy portraits found in some of the oases of Upper Egypt in the 19th century, all from the 1st to the 4th century, all painted in the manner of the Encaustic, and the older, the more expressive. The oldest of them is closest to “Advocata”. With her eyes as deep as wells, no person has come down to us is such an inspiring manner from the depth of time. The linden wood is so decayed that the age can not be determined.
For more than 1000 years, the path of this Table has been well documented. San Domenico di Guzman, to whom Christendom owes the rosary, carried the picture on February 28, 1221, by hand, from S. Maria in Tempulo to his newly founded convent. In 1575 it migrated from there to SS. Domenico e Sisto in the Piazza Magnanapoli, from there it came in 1931 in the Rosary Monastery on Monte Mario.
Before that, we have only legends which have illuminated its path through the darkness of time like a halo, of which a Sister Salomona in 1656 has gathered the most beautiful [legends] in a work entitled “Cronaca.” She had no doubt that Luke had painted the picture in the Upper Room in Sion. That is why Luke conveyed this gaze of she who had seen her Son being martyred to death next to her. Did not she then have to become the first icon of her Son among the apostles?
John, not Luke, then took the picture from Jerusalem to Ephesus, from where it later came to Constantinople and Europe. Here Thomas Aquinas stated in the Middle Ages that for the faith of the Christians was not only the Holy Scriptures, but also that tradition played an essential role. As a special example of authentic traditions, he pointed to the icon painted by Luke. Could he have meant something other than “Advocata”? He knew Rome and was Dominican, just a generation after Dominic, who had incorporated this icon into his order, which has found its last place today on Monte Mario.
Before the Advocata was brought here, Franz Liszt composed his Christ Oratory in the house. The view over Rome is cosmic. The dome in the panorama of the hills almost lost since the “Hilton” hotel was built above the monastery, The image of Mary in this retreat of the Dominicans is still poignant, as on the first day, as a hidden wonder of the world. The story is not over yet, she says with an ageless look. Is not she just starting again?
In any case, the nuns who keep “the sweet image in inseparable communion” are getting older and older. Of 13 sisters, five are over 80, one is 92. Water comes through some walls, the pipes are old and brittle, Sister Maria Angelica, the Mother Superior, cannot pay her debts, the phones do not work. She urgently needs donations and only knows how to beg her [Mary] in prayer. It is a little island in a world that — from a purely sociological point of view — is more in danger of extinction than the glaciers of Switzerland.
When I turned my phone back on after our first visit outside the door, I learned that the case, for which I was looking for a lawyer, had just solved by itself. I turned around again. How breathtakingly beautiful she is! Mary “is our lawyer with God,” said Benedict XVI. on 11 September in Regensburg, therefore she received the title “Advocata”. I see how I have to go back to her (and maybe the Pope too). We will all still need them.
With the blissful vision blest, my God, of Thee. Amen”
–Last line of Hymn “Adoro te devote” by St. Thomas Aquinas
“While they were eating, He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’” (Mk 14)
How few truly believe the words of Jesus when He said, “This is my Body.” God wills that the glory of Jesus’s Face be veiled under the humble appearance of bread, so we will not fear to approach Him. Acknowledging ourselves to be sinners, we repeat the words of the centurion as we come in faith to the altar, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…” (Mt. 8:8)
Because our faith is weak, St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe recommends an even better way to approach Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; he says that one should never fail to remember Mary’s presence. She who was conceived without sin in order to receive the Son of God into her womb, will help prepare us to receive Him. Although Mary’s eyes sought and contemplated the Holy Face of her son Jesus from His infancy to His Ascension, like us Mary would have to look upon the Eucharist with eyes of faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29) So, we should invoke Mary, who is “most blessed” and unite ourselves to her, and she will help us receive Him with love and devotion, to know Him better, adore Him more, to increase in us the virtues of faith, hope, and love, until the time when the Eucharistic Veil is lifted–then, together with Mary, Our Mother, we will behold the glory of His Holy Face forever in Heaven.
“I need nothing in this world in order to be happy. I only need to see Jesus in heaven, Whom I now see and adore on the altar with the eyes of faith.” – St. Dominic Savio
“How fair you are, O Virgin Mary! Your face is resplendent with grace.” –Carmelite Proper
Virgin Mary is she who more than any other contemplated God in the human Face of Jesus. She saw Him as a newborn when, wrapped in swaddling clothes, He was placed in a manger; she saw Him when, just after His death, they took Him down from the Cross, wrapped Him in linen and placed Him in the sepulcher. Inside her was impressed the image of her martyred Son; but this image was then transfigured in the light of the Resurrection. Thus, in Mary’s heart, was carried the mystery of the Face of Christ, a mystery of death and glory. From her we can always learn how to look upon Jesus, with a gaze of love and faith, to recognize in that human countenance, the Face of God.” –Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Seeking the Face of Christ through Mary
In the icon of “Queen Beauty and Mother of Carmel,” the Infant Jesus tenderly invites us to look at the face of His Mother, “resplendent with grace.” What makes the Virgin Mary’s face “resplendent with grace?” It is the light of the Face of Christ – just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, the face of Mary reflects the light of the true sun, Jesus Christ.
Mary is “The glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the highest honor of our race,” (Judith 15:9) because she sought the face of God, His holy will and pleasure, in all things. Just as it is possible for the moon to shine even in the brightness of day, Mary gives more beauty to the heavens, more glory to God than any other creature on earth. And when the dark night of faith is upon us and the sun is hidden from our view, Mary is there to enlighten our path and show us the way to her Son, until “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1: 78-79)
At the present moment, although the world is filled with darkness, we can turn to her for help in seeking His Face and leading souls to Him. Even pebbles on a path on the ground can reflect the light of the moon at night; and so the children of Mary by following her example, “to seek the Face of God in all things,” can guide others through the darkness by reflecting the light of the Face of Christ as does Mary.
It is Jesus Himself who desires that we turn to the face of His Mother. He created her with all the perfection and beauty that would be fitting for the Mother of God. Her soul, holy, immaculate and unstained by sin, is the perfect mirror in which He reflects His Face. He holds her up to us as the model for all His disciples as He did in Luke’s Gospel: “While He was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.’” This singular praise of Mary from the woman in the crowd was not enough for her Son. And so Jesus replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:27) Mary is thus thrice blessed, first, in being chosen to be the Mother of God, second, in that Mary heard the word of God and third, because she kept His word in her heart.
Mary holds out to us her Scapular, a sacramental sign of being clothed in her own garment, to place over our shoulders, so that we may imitate her in faith, hope, charity and all the virtues that adorn her soul. By contemplating the Face of Jesus always, together with Mary, we can do our part in making His Face shine upon our world as well.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
O most beautiful flower of Mount Carmel, fruitful vine, splendor of heaven, blessed Mother of Christ, Immaculate Virgin, we praise and honor you as our Queen and Mother.
Help us to persevere in constant prayer for the needs of our world and share with you in the work of redemption. Be with us, Holy Virgin, and guide us on our way, as we journey together in faith, hope and love to your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord.
“My Mother honors every consecration made to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, and even if one should forget that one uttered such a prayer, My Mother does not forget it. She remains faithful to her own children, even when they are distracted by the world and turn away from her brightness shining like a star over the stormy seas of life.”— In Sinu Jesu, When Heart Speaks to Heart
Anyone who has recited a “Hail Mary” as a child, or placed flowers (they may have been dandelions, no matter to her) before a plaster statue of the Blessed Mother, or treasured a little holy card with her image, or childhood rosary–that person, most likely at tumultuous time of darkness in their life, will turn to seek the face of their Mother Mary in prayer. Though the rosary may have been tossed in a drawer for decades, and for years we never gave her much of a thought, our Mother did not forget us or cease to pray for us.
The joyful scene of the Annunciation, with the Angel Gabriel’s awaiting Mary’s consent to become the Mother of the Redeemer, has hidden within it the shadow of the cross, and that cross is us. God willed that Mary not only become the Mother of Jesus, but our Mother as well. At the Incarnation of the Word, Jesus was united to all of humanity, the Church His mystical body and Jesus, Mary’s Son, our head. When John, the beloved disciple stood at the foot of the Cross with Mary, Jesus willed to give Mary to us as our Mother, “Women, behold your son,” then to John, “behold your Mother.” And Mary, who never for a moment turned from the Face of God, seeking only His Divine Will, had a choice. With total self-emptying and humility, at both the Annunciation and at Christ’s Passion, and with the greatest love that is humanly possible, knowing this total self-giving would mean great suffering and sacrifice, Mary said “Fiat,” “Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.” So when Mary looks at our faces, she sees the Face of her son, Jesus. There is no division in her Immaculate Heart. She will never forget us. Let us never forget her and pray for those who do not know Our Mother’s great love.
“I will wait for the Lord who hath hid His Face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him.” (Isaiah 8)
Is there anyone who enjoys waiting? Our human nature rebels against all forms of it: there is the mundane waiting we must endure in lines, in traffic, at ball games, practices, and in doctor’s offices; the anxious waiting for phone calls, for results, or for the end of sufferings; the joyful waiting for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other celebrations. Then there is the heavy combination of all three types of waiting–which is of a mother waiting for the birth of her child.
Our weak human nature does not like to wait. We want to “get there” right away, to “know” right away, for something to be “done” right away. Waiting requires patience and most of humanity has very little. But wait we must, and since everything in life is permitted by God solely for our good, waiting must be very good for us since we spend so much of our lives doing it.
If waiting is indeed good for us, then it is certain that the evil one will do everything possible to trip us up as he did with the children of Israel while they were waiting, waiting, waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. When God was telling Moses, “I am the Lord, thy God: thou shall not have strange Gods before me,” the devil was tempting them to pride; the Israelite’s did not want to endure waiting to see the Face of God so they fashioned an idol, the “work of their own hands.” Here lies the temptation for us all in what should be a grace-filled period of time: distraction in turning the eyes of our soul away from the Face of God and toward the false faces or idols of the world–bright, sparkly, enticing and all around us. How can we resist falling into the traps of idolatry?
The ultimate good is to see the Face of God and therefore Mary must have waited like no one has ever waited before! Mary, for the love of God, waited in patience, humility, faith, charity, in hope, and in supreme fortitude. She did this by fixing the eyes of her soul on Jesus, her Redeemer and God–Whose Face she could not yet see within her womb. Mary’s uncomplaining acceptance of God’s Will–to seek His Face and only His Face–bore the most sublime fruit in Mary’s soul of divine PEACE, which the world can never take away. So, this Advent and in all times of waiting, wait with Mary, and her reward will also be ours…to see the Face of her Son!
Silent, peaceful, humble, gentle, pure…Immaculate! These words describe Mary, the first temple of the Holy Spirit, and may also be applied to the Holy House of Loreto as well. One has a great sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit resting in this place. There is something very touching about the respectful way that the pilgrims silently enter the Holy House. They then stand or kneel, leaning against, or touching the holy walls in order to feel closer to Mary–touching the very walls that the Holy Family touched. Just before the bells for the Angelus ring, the Holy House fills completely and the Angelus is recited, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace…” Here the Holy Face of Jesus was formed and hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How great was her longing to see the Face of her Son and Messiah!
“The House of the Holy Family! It was the first temple, the first church, on which the Mother of God shed her light through motherhood. She irradiated it with the light which comes from the great mystery of the Incarnation; from the mystery of her Son.”–Pope St. John Paul II
The grand exterior of the Basilica hides a message, just as it hides the humble Holy House in its bosom; it is a message for all pilgrims, that we must become like Mary, whose soul proclaimed only “the greatness of the Lord” (Lk. 1:46-55). The humble, simple work of everyday life was sanctified here, where the Face of God was present each day within the family. God was attracted by Mary’s lowliness and “He who is mighty” did great things for her–now all generations call her blessed!
Year of Mercy volunteers were available near the entrance of the Holy Door and handed us a very helpful pamphlet in English guiding us through the Basilica, both physically and spiritually. Using the guide, we offered prayers at particularly meaningful chapels beginning with the Baptismal Font inside the Holy Door where we renewed our baptismal promises. We spent the entire day in that sacred place and probably only saw a fraction of the beautiful artwork and craftsmanship lavished on the chapels, each one vying to give greater glory to God by the work of talented hands of many countries of the world. Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share as a common phrase I heard in English everywhere was, “No photos, please!”
There is one more thing I’d like to mention about Loreto before moving on to Assisi and that is this: pilgrimages are filled not only with minor inconveniences, or events meant to help us grow in virtue, but also signs. Signposts, you might say, along the pilgrimage path to remind us to keep going in the right direction. We had a big sign, right outside the window of our hotel; it was not only one of sight, but of also sound–in fact, a never-ending “coo,” “coo,” “coo,” “coo.” There was a pigeon coop directly outside the window of our room for some reason. Whereas Mary was a temple of the Holy Spirit, our temples, it seemed were more like a pigeon coop: Noisy, messy and in need of regular cleaning. I’d say it was a good reminder to go to Confession. God isn’t always silent; sometimes, He speaks loud and clear. We couldn’t miss that one. (to be continued in Assisi Pt. 6)
Pt. 4: “Here the Word was made flesh” – The Holy House of Loreto
“While we too seek other signs, other wonders, we do not realize that He is the real sign, God made flesh; He is the greatest miracle of the universe: all the love of God hidden in a human heart, in a human FACE.”–Pope Benedict XVI
Our last morning in Manoppello the skies cleared and it promised to be a beautiful day and evening on which to hold the procession in honor of the Holy Veil. After Mass I spoke again to Sr. Petra-Maria about the miraculous image. The Holy Veil of Manoppello seems to be an icon written in light by the Holy Spirit, telling the whole of the Gospel in one human Face–the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He suffered and died for us, He rose again! We walked slowly around the reliquary, looking at the Face of Jesus from each angle, His eyes following us. I wondered if the world has gotten so accustomed to man-made marvels of technology, flashing images and special effects, that it can no longer recognize a true miracle. Sr. Petra-Maria and I agreed that there was only one thing more marvelous and miraculous in this world than the Holy Veil and that is the continuing miracle of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist!
Sr. Petra-Maria had also had given me a glimmer of hope of attending the procession that night after all. She said the Sanctuary of Loreto, where we were heading, was only an hour or so away. We could possibly make it back for the procession after we checked into our hotel in Loreto. I paid one more visit to the Holy Veil before regretfully parting. Later, we left Manoppello by taxi to pick up a rental car in Pescara and then drove north along the beautiful blue Adriatic Coast toward Loreto. The drive was pleasant and filled with beautiful glimpses of the blue Adriatic. About forty minutes into the drive, we suddenly slowed to a crawl–there had been an accident ahead that was being cleared. The delay would take nearly 3 hours, making it too late to get back for the procession in Manoppello that night. For hundreds of years, the Veil of Manoppello was only taken out in procession once a year, on August 6th. Later, there would be an additional procession on the third Sunday in May. It had been very important to me, for reasons only God knows, to be part of that procession that evening, but now, it did not seem that it was God’s Will for us to be there.
The Basilica of Loreto soon appeared on the horizon and I turned my thoughts to the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit. “The Holy House of Loreto, the first shrine of international renown dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, has been a true Marian center of Christianity for several centuries.”–Pope St. John Paul II According to tradition, the Basilica contains the Holy House of Nazareth– it was the birthplace of Mary, the place of the Annunciation, where the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word in Mary’s womb took place through the power of the Holy Spirit, and it was the home of the Holy Family.
“And where could one speak more effectively of the Holy Spirit’s role than in the Shrine of Loreto, which recalls the moment and the place where He fulfilled the most supreme of His “life-giving” deeds, giving life to the humanity of the Saviour in Mary’s womb? For this reason the Holy House is first and foremost the shrine of the Holy Spirit. Christians who come here feel the need to invoke the Divine Paraclete to obtain His seven holy gifts in order to remain faithful to their baptism through which they were united to Christ and made to participate in His grace of Redemption.”–Pope St. John Paul II
If you have never heard of the Holy House of Loreto–to make a long history short–in 1291, when the Holy Home in Nazareth was in danger of being destroyed by the Muslims, it was transported by Angels across the Mediterranean Sea, then several more times before resting finally, on December 10th in 1294, in the middle of the road on the hill of Loreto.
Research has discovered that the small home consists of three original brick walls, approximately three meters high, complete with graffiti and relics from the Crusaders in Holy Land and is standing without foundation on an ancient road. In it’s original form, the Holy House has only three walls because the eastern side, where the altar stands, opened onto a Grotto. (diagram) The structure and the brick of the home is not of the type found in the area of Loreto. A technical comparison between the Holy House of Loreto and the Grotto at Nazareth show the three walls and measurements match exactly the fourth wall, which is a grotto and the original foundation which can still be seen in Nazareth. (Diagram of the Home of Loreto and the Grotto at Nazareth in the Holy Land highlighting that the two parts were contiguous and coexisted.)
We entered the shrine, prayed in the Holy House and then again in the exquisitely beautiful French Chapel which contains the Blessed Sacrament. After leaving the shrine to find something to eat (gelato for dinner works for me) we took a walk around the outside walls. I was still feeling a little sad about missing out on the procession in Manoppello when we came back along the side of the Basilica toward the piazza. Lo’ and behold! I found myself in a procession!
As the priest holding the monstrance made his way around the piazza he paused and blessed us. By seeking Mary in the Holy House of Loreto, she had led me to the Eucharistic Face of her Son and the Face of Jesus in my neighbors around me. The Holy Spirit was at work! I was able to honor Him in a procession of the Holy Face after all. Praised be Jesus! (…to be continued in Pt. 5)