Saturday, January 15, 2011

Our Lady on Saturday.

The Risen Lord appears to His Mother.
A window in St Cyprian's Church, London (source).

The Latin Church has a tradition of honoring the Virgin Mary on Saturdays, chiefly by offering special votive Masses for Our Lady on this day of the week. The roots of this practice are said to lie in the belief that Mary was the first person to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection; some readers will know that St. Ignatius invites the exercitant to meditate upon this appearance in the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises. The scriptures are silent on this event - as they are on much else that has a cherished (and even essential) place in Christian tradition - but it seems right that the first person to receive the news of the Resurrection would be Christ's own mother.

The tradition of dedicating Saturdays to Mary should also remind us of the experience of Holy Saturday, the time between Christ's passion and death on the cross on Friday and his Resurrection on Sunday. If every Sunday is in some sense a Feast of the Resurrection and if every Friday recalls the Passion (through such customs as abstaining from meat on this day), then it makes sense to see the experience of Holy Saturday as somehow present in every Saturday. This isn't to say that we should spend every Saturday thinking about Christ in the tomb - just as we don't spend every Friday meditating constantly on the Passion - but it is to say that the tradition of honoring Mary on Saturdays may have something significant to offer us.

These thoughts came to me today during my Jesuit community's morning liturgy, which was celebrated as a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As we offered prayers for the victims of last Saturday's shooting in Tucson, for a recently deceased Jesuit of our community, and for others who have died or are suffering, the essentially consoling nature of today's liturgical commemoration struck me in a way it hadn't before. We all suffer from the pain of separation - the pain of losing people we love, of being far from those we care deeply about, and of being estranged or unreconciled in one way or another. We might think of these as Holy Saturday experiences of a kind, experiences which make us feel emotionally and spiritually bereft. It's hard to imagine that Mary did not feel this way herself on Holy Saturday, even if her faith in the Resurrection remained strong.

The commemoration of Our Lady on Saturday offers us a consolation as well as a challenge. The consolation involved is not necessarily of the warm, fuzzy and naturally 'comfortable' variety; rather, the consolation here comes in the reminder that we are never truly alone in our pain. The losses and separations that we all suffer are individually unique and perhaps even incommunicable; nonetheless, loss and separation remain universal human experiences, experiences we shall never be fully free of this side of the Resurrection. Reflecting on Our Lady on Saturday, the challenge for us is to consider how we can make Mary's experience our own. What lacks and losses do we feel most acutely? What sort of personal resurrection(s) do we seek? How, finally, does our own experience of loss and separation prepare us to meet the Risen Lord? AMDG.


At 1/15/2011 8:00 PM, Blogger Robin said...

Well, first I had to look up "votive mass" so that I would understand what you were talking about. Having understood that, I have to say that I very much like this idea of setting time aside each week to focus on the sorrows of life in worship. It seems to me that it would both make a clear space for that kind of expression and also free people up for other aspects of life in the rest of the week. Much like one of the results of our church's Blue Christmas service, after which one doubtful participant told me that she felt freed to go ahead and celebrate Christmas.

But more than the above, I am much taken with your final questions: "How, finally, does our own experience of loss and separation prepare us to meet the Risen Lord?" After a serious discussion today (despite the blog pictures to the contrary) about encountering God in darkness so dark that you believe God is not there, that seems an excellent question to ponder.

At 1/15/2011 9:26 PM, Blogger Joe said...


Thanks for the feedback - this was a much more immediate and 'stream-of-consciousness' post than I usually write (the idea literally came to me this morning, and I wrote it in a few minutes this evening), so I was especially curious to see what kind of reactions it would elicit. The questions I posed at the end are ones I'm pondering myself.

I'm always pleased to hear about churches offering Blue Christmas services - given that Christmas can be a difficult time for many people, I think it's important to acknowledge that in worship and, hopefully, to provide a possible context for healing.


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