Two human beings are mentioned by name in the ancient Christian Creed so as to anchor our Christian beliefs in actual historical circumstances: “the Virgin Mary” and “Pontius Pilate”. The one mentioned in appreciation the other in depreciation. John the Baptist is not mentioned in the Creed, nor Joseph, nor Peter, nor Paul, nor the four evangelists.
“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried.”
“For us men”, “for our salvation” and “For our sake” are three critical phrases which give perspective about why God came into our world and did what He did. (Recall the famous verse John 3:16 ; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”)
The fantastic thing about this marvelous plan of salvation is that God did it “for you” and “for me” personally. But first, He did it for Mary! “…by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man”. At the very instant of the conception of Jesus Christ, Mary loved Him on your behalf. She loved Him with all of her being on your behalf, to say thank you on your behalf. She accepted Him with an inspired maternal love not only as Mother, but also on behalf of her other children (see Rev 12:17).
Let’s consider how blessed we are that Mary completely accepted Him and profoundly loved Him throughout her nine month pregnancy and thereafter, by recalling these words from the Prologue to John’s Gospel: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” (Jn 1:10-12). Mary “received him” and she “believed in his name”. She was first among the “children of God”, but as His Mother, our mother too.
Through Mary, Christ “became man” – one of us, one with us. She immediately embraced Him with all of her love and thereby made the Incarnation of the Son of God an even more wonderful miracle because as a Sign of God’s Love it is accompanied by the best of our human love. God poured His Grace upon humanity in His Incarnation and humanity ( Mary) poured her affection and gratitude upon God! This is the way it should have been, this is the way it was. Sinful humanity (Herod) wanted a different outcome but Love prevailed – thanks be to God! (And thanks also to “the Virgin Mary”.)
Annunciation by Michael Wening
Christians of every persuasion unite around the repetition of the Our Father. But in a sense the Lord’s Prayer is a model of how to pray – not the only prayer we are to say.
Making the sign of the cross is a physical expression of prayer which reflects our interior disposition (at least to an extent). Kneeling is also a physical expression of prayer but less revealing of one’s “beliefs” than making the sign of the cross.
All of our spiritual acts and words leave an impression upon our souls. The memory is a faculty of the soul, an “inner sense” as Aquinas described it. Surely the memory takes note of all our spiritual acts and prayers, especially those that tend to be repetitive.
So let’s consider briefly just a few words from one prayer; the Hail Mary, which is a prayer based on scripture and the tradition of the Church. (The first half of the Hail Mary comes straight from scripture; Lk 1:28, 42, 31. The second half is a simple petition expressing the age old mind of the Church.) Let’s consider one clause from this ancient prayer of the Church: “…blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus”. These words were spoken by Elizabeth to Mary when Unborn Jesus was about one week old – He was in Mary’s womb when the words were spoken by Elizabeth who was probably just a few feet away from Him.
“Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus”. These words have been prayed by Catholics zillions of times over two thousand years, but more to the point, each individual Catholic has heard these words over and over again and prayed these words over and over again. The message of these words is like a radiant beam of glory aimed at the heart of the Christian. The point here is that these words are packed with message and meaning.
Some would take issue with recitation of this prayer by quoting Jesus Himself: “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do…” (Mt 6:7). The point here is that this phrase – this glorious phrase “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus” – is NOT an empty phrase, it is scripture, it is a phrase “pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” – bursting and overflowing with meaning, direction and hope.
So, the Church is guilty of being fixated upon, even obsessed with, the wonder, the beauty and the glory of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. And we haven’t even mentioned Christmas yet!
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus” has been a luminous track for the faithful, lo’ these many centuries, for the illiterate and literate alike, for the weak and the holy alike. These words have upheld a Truth about Jesus Christ which has led the Church into its profound and expansive Pro – Life position concerning all other unborn children in the wombs of their mothers.
Dare we say it? “Blessed is the fruit of every mother’s womb!”
Bonfigli’s Annunciation with St Luke taking notes…
75 verses in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel detail the nine month pregnancy of Elizabeth and the happy birth of her son John (later to be known as ‘the Baptist’). Plus two angelic visitations, the Incarnation of the Son of God, the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, two inspired canticles (still repeated daily by the Church) and – if that were not enough – a sublime miracle of the first order performed by none other than the Embryonic Christ Child! What a chapter!
When was the last time you visited this first chapter of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It behooves every Christian to know it well. Pregnancy is best understood – with all due respect to the dignified practice of Obstetrics and Gynecology – first and foremost as a sacred mystery in the ever unfolding litany of the creative acts of our Loving God. Today pregnancy has become “a hot potato”, “a political football” because a jaded class of sophisticates believe that ending a life in the womb is better than engendering love within the heart. Our world today – and the Church today – need (more than ever) the first chapter of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, written they say, by a doctor…
Chapter Two is just as good if not better – it leaves you on your knees worshipping a little newborn Baby!