DAY 9: VIRGO
At the beginning we contemplated Mary's unique vocation as Mother, and indeed throughout this novena we have called upon her as our Mother. Here, at the end we behold the miraculous nature of Mary's motherhood: she is Virgin and Mother, and as such she has a double portion of joy: the joy of virginal purity so that she is entirely consecrated to God alone, and the joy of the feminine gift of motherhood. Hence, in the Akathistos hymn, a beautiful ode to Our Lady that was written in Constantinople in 626, Mary is repeatedly greeted with these words: "Rejoice! Bride Unbrided" that is to say, "Hail, Virginal Mother!" for Mary alone rejoices in the truly singular and unique privilege of being both virgin and Mother. In the medieval Western tradition, Mary's perpetual virginity was evoked by the image of the hortus conclusus, an enclosed garden. The garden is fecund and fruitful, an image of motherhood, but it is closed off by a wall so that none may enter it, a symbol of Mary's virginity throughout her life.
We live in an age when virginity is denigrated and continence is not valued. Indeed, the sinful inversion of things in our times is such that virginity is now seen by the worldly to be a shameful condition. But in fact, virginity, both for men and women, is precious and to be guarded precisely because it is a sign of bodily integrity and therefore of the total consecration of oneself to God, and to his wisdom, and to his ways. Mary, as we noted, was dedicated to God from an early age, and a venerable tradition holds that St Joseph was likewise a perpetual virgin, given over to God's work.
In Familiaris Consortio, Pope St John Paul II teaches that:
Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique way,"so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity," bears witness that the Kingdom of God and His justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value.
However, he rightly observes that "when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning." This is the phenomenon that we face in the world, and even among Christians in our times. Lifting our hearts and voices to Mary, we hail her as Virgin and Mother, the Bride Unbrided who rejoices in the two-fold joys of divine motherhood and holy virginity. And we ask our Virgin Queen to restore to our country the joy of virginity, and purity, and love for chastity. It is important to stress that virginity is not a purely biological or physical fact. After all, there can be many technical virgins who are unchaste and unvirginal in thought, word, and deed! Rather, St Augustine reminds us that virginity is not honoured for its own sake as a physical fact but because, for us Christians, it indicates one's dedication to God and his will. The Virgin Mary, therefore is the one who entirely surrendered herself, from the moment of her immaculate conception, to the will of God: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy Word." But this means that all of us, no matter our personal histories, can have a virginal future, that is to say, we can and we shall give ourselves wholly to God's will, as we dedicate ourselves and our country again to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Dos tua Virgo pia haec est, "This is thy dowry, O Holy Virgin"!
And finally, to end, a few brief thoughts on the beautiful and powerful name of Mary. Leonard Bernstein said it well, when he wrote these lyrics:
The most beautiful sound I ever heard
Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria!
All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word
Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria!
Say it loud and there's music playing,
Say it soft and it's almost like praying
He was only wrong on one point: saying the name of Mary isn't almost like praying, it is praying! Our Lady herself told St Bridget of Sweden that the mere invocation of her name, when said by pious and repentance hearts, would send the devils fleeing in terror. And St Bernard of Clairvaux affirmed: "In dangers, in perplexities, in doubtful cases, think of Mary, call on Mary; let her not leave thy lips; let her not depart from thy heart."
For the tradition, coming from certain Fathers of the Church is that the name Mary means, "Star of the Sea". Thus she is the star that guides us on our pilgrim voyage across the turbulent waters of this life; she is the star by which we Christians navigate, and she guides her children home to the safe haven of heaven. As the 18th-century English historian, Fr John Lingard, put it so well in his immortal lyrics:
Hail, Queen of Heav'n, the ocean Star,
Guide of the wand'rer here below!
Thrown on life's surge we claim thy care,
Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea,
Pray for the wanderer, pray for me
Therefore, let us once again, pray with joy to the blessed Virgin Mary asking her to take us under her mantle as her true children.
Take a moment to treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart (cf Luke 2,19)
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Col 4:6