A Prayer to Mary, Mother of Advent from Saint Pope John Paul II
May the Virgin Mary help us to open the doors of our hearts to Christ, Redeemer of man and of history; may she teach us to be humble, because God looks upon the lowly; may she enable us to grow in understanding the value of prayer, of inner silence, of listening to God’s Word; may she spur us to seek God’s will deeply and sincerely, even when this upsets our plans; may she encourage us while we wait for the Lord, sharing our time and energies with those in need. Mother of God, Virgin of expectation, grant that the God-who-comes will find us ready to receive the abundance of his mercy. May Mary Most Holy, “Woman of the Eucharist” and Virgin of Advent, prepare us all to joyfully welcome Christ’s coming and to celebrate worthily his sacramental presence in the mystery of the Eucharist.
The intent of the Advent season, as Catholics, is to prepare for the arrival of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We have begun another Liturgical Church year.
The readings of the Mass at the beginning of Advent prepare us for the second coming of Christ, in his glory, in Easter.
From December 17 to December 24, the readings then focus on preparing us for Christ’s coming at Christmas.
Of course, on December 24, the Christmas season begins. The season ends with Jesus’ Baptism on January 8, 2023. As always, every day we should be ready to receive and recognize Jesus’ presence and hopefully, his reign in the grace-filled moments of our life (and often those painful moments of suffering that we will have in our journeys).
One of the aspects that we should contemplate and, indeed, rejoice in – is Mary’s role in our salvation.
In the Mass readings of the Advent and Christmas seasons, Mary appears more often than at any other time in the Church year because she is the mother of Jesus who gave the Divine Jesus a human nature.
Mary, like her Son, was fully open to doing God’s will. Mary and Joseph remind us of the crucial importance of the family as the domestic Church in the day-to-day process of raising their family.
So many of today’s problems are being brought to Jesus and Mary:
On May 17, 1846, the bishops of the United States proclaimed Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, as the principal patroness of our country.
On May 1, 2020, the bishops of our country and Canada reconsecrated their countries to Mary under the title of Mary, Mother of the Church.
The United States and their brother Canadian bishops especially sought the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, for strength in the struggle against COVID-19, looting, rioting, abortion, worldwide religious persecution, and loss of respect for God and others.
According to paragraph 101 and 102 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, through all the words of sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single word: Jesus.
101 In order to reveal himself to men, in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to them in human words: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men.”63
102 Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely:64
Christ is the Father’s one utterance in whom He expresses Himself completely.
For Christians, Jesus Christ is the unique word of God who is the center of human history.
Mary gave birth to Jesus so that He could redeem us from our sins, teach us how to love as He loved, and offer us the gift of Heaven.
We are all called to be disciples and to share the news of that gift with others. Jesus gave the Great Commission and commanded us “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Mary is considered the first (and many would argue the greatest?) disciple for multiple reasons. One key reason is for a segment in Luke’s gospel.
For this session – to provide for contemplation and reflection for what will I hope, help us in preparation for making the remainder of our Advents as personally fruitful as possible we will be talking about The Visitation.
As a reminder, The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a reference to the biblical event of Mary visiting her cousin, Elizabeth. This event is narrated in the Gospel of Luke. [Lk. 1:36, 39-45]
The Angel, Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to our Lady. In that Gospel it reads:
“Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren” ... During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Let’s examine the elements of the scripture as well as relate those lines to our lives in today’s day and age.
Past – Making the Past relevant in today’s Advent
One of the key elements of Mary’s life that many Christians today ignore, don’t realize, or deny (especially those who may be reluctant to draw close to Mary); is that she was deeply present at many (if not each) critical points in Jesus’ life. From his conception to his crucifixion and ascension and beyond. How many people in our lives can we say that about? Our own mothers are present in some of the pivotal moments – but MOST or ALL of them? Give it thought as we progress, but let’s start with Mary’s role as the “First Evangelizer”.
Quite soon after the archangel, Gabriel had appeared to the young teenage girl in Galilee to announce that she would give birth to the Divine Child, the Blessed Virgin Mary left to wait upon her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with Christ’s forerunner.
“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste”
Mary was early in her pregnancy. I know from participation that the early stages of pregnancy for women can be quite unpleasant. My lovely wife, Renée, suffered with rather severe morning sickness with both of our children for quite some time. We can speculate that Our Lady may not have been plagued with morning sickness (similar to her lack of suffering from labor pains thanks to her immaculate conception – and freedom from sin) – but, putting that aside completely – the journey was about 90 miles from Nazareth to Ein Karem – where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. Even in the best of conditions, that would not have been a simple journey (especially for a teenage female). A journey of about a week (even in haste).
“Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit”
As Elizabeth reported, the unborn child, John the Baptist, leaped with joy in his mother’s womb when he found himself in the presence of our Savior and Our Lady. The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts to speak the truth and continue the work that Jesus began, which is to bring us closer to God. One gift is the gift of prophecy. Elizabeth prophesied, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Because only through the Holy Spirit could she know that Jesus is Blessed – and our savior (her Lord has come to her).
The blessing that Elizabeth pronounces is like two prayers that come from Jewish prayer from the Torah. Judges 5:24 – (“Most blessed of women is Jael”). [Jdt. 13:18] – (“Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies.”). The blessings on the Old Testament heroines set the stage for the blessing on the Virgin Mary. Also, an Echo of the Protoevangelium in [Gn. 3:15].
As a devout Jew, Mary understood this. The important element that Luke wanted to ensure in the writing of this chapter was the understanding that Elizabeth is proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah. John the Baptist started laying straight the path at that moment, and the Old Testament, again, is being fulfilled.
How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Additionally, there is a linkage between Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament to the New Testament through Elizabeth’s statement “How does this happen to me… and David’s cry in [2Sam 6:9] “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” It’s as if Elizabeth is the role of David and Mary as the new tabernacle. Additionally, when Mary enters the house of Zechariah – it is the fulfillment of the Ark entering the house of Obed-edom the Gittite [2Sam. 6:10), where “David came dancing before the Lord with abandon” [2Sam. 6:14] in conjunction with John the Baptist dancing in utero.
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled
Elizabeth pronounces a final blessing. It shows that Mary is blessed with her faith. I often think of Mary as exalted and high above us (as is proper) – but ultimately, she has the same virtues that we have access to – she is a creature – especially that virtue of faith. We need to believe in God as she did – and we will be blessed as well.
Our Lady then chants The Canticle:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For He has looked upon His handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry He has filled with good things;
the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering His mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Mary sings the Magnificat – it can be compared to the Song of Hannah – [1Sam.]. where Hannah conceives a son and sings a song of vindication.
Mary’s song sounds like the Psalms (102 and 103) where God exercises his strength, and his people are protected. The Magnificat is a reflection of Mary’s soul. The victory that she sings about is brought to fruition through Christ in the fulfillment of his ministry.
The Song of Hannah
My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance. There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.
Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.
The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.
For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.
It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.
Lastly, Mary stayed at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house for three months, just as the Ark of the Covenant stayed at Obed-edom’s house for three months.
After those three months, Mary returned to Nazareth, most likely accompanied by St. Joseph. By this time, Joseph must have had peace of mind regarding the pregnancy of Mary because of his vision of the angel in a dream. [Mt. 1:19-25]
Why is this all important?
Now one would think that traditionally (I certainly thought), this feast has been officially celebrated since the early days of the Church. But this is not the case. While there are records to show that the feast was adopted by the Franciscan Chapter in 1263 upon the advice of St. Bonaventure, this feast was not extended to the entire Church until 1389.
On November 9, 1389, it was decreed by Pope Boniface IX that the Feast of the Visitation should be extended to the entire Catholic Church in the hope that Jesus and His Mother would visit the Church and put an end to the Great Schism that was taking place.
This schism was also known as “The Papal Schism, the Great Occidental Schism, The Schism of 1378, Magnum Schisma Occidentale, Ecclesiae Occidentalis Schisma, and my favorite – The Vatican Standoff (which sounds like an old Western Movie).
I really shouldn’t joke – because if it was happening now – I would be furious. Think about it – it lasted 39 years. From 1378 to 1417 – there was no agreement on who the Pope was.
Imagine the confusion that the people had to tolerate in those days. Traveling was by foot or by horse. Communication was limited. No telegraph, no newspapers, no telephones, no TV, No Twitter, no Facebook, not even a Parish Bulletin. The faithful would hear of one Pope here and another one there and had no idea what was going on.
Consequently, the Lord Jesus and His Mother visited the Catholic Church and resolved the situation to secure that apostolic succession would continue as we enjoy it today. The schism ended – praise God.
This event (and others) can certainly relate to the confusion that we have in our world today.
We can and should look to the Visitation to clear the path for us in our confusion today. The war and tribulation between countries – Russian and Ukraine (and others). The political division – the hatred that is fomented between the political parties of our own nation. The lack of trust we have between so many of our fellow citizens and our political leaders. The division occurring between families because of the discord in society – as well as the friction within our own churches. We have political leaders that publicly and directly disagree with Catholic teaching yet claim to be devout Catholics. I certainly consider today’s day and age to be a confusing and frustrating time.
A grace-filled Advent is one way that we can help counteract that – and bring some peace to our corner of the world. Sometimes, that peace may be hard to reach.
For many of us, the Mathew and Luke “infancy narratives,” have been read many times and are understood fully – and may even be a bit “dry”. Gabriel’s visit to Mary, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, the birth of Our Lord in Bethlehem — not only do we recall and teach these events every year during Advent and Christmas but also every time we pray the Joyful mysteries of the rosary. We know the stories, we know what they illustrate, and we know why they’re important. But knowing the basic bullet points of the New Testament is not enough. We are called to know our Lord more deeply, more intimately. And contemplating them more deeply during this retreat and throughout the rest of our advent may help bring us closer to Christ, and closer to peace.
There is an excellent reflection in Dei Verbum. As a reminder, Dei Verbum is the shortest but may be considered the most important and influential document of Vatican II. Its purpose was to spell out the Church’s understanding of the nature of revelation – the process whereby God communicates with humans. It summarizes, in less than fifteen pages the most important truths about the Word of God, divine Revelation, and Biblical studies.
Dei Verbum compares the gift of Scripture to the gift of the Incarnation: “for the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men”.
This Advent, let us return to the infancy narratives – and especially the Visitation, with fresh eyes.
So how can we strive for peace in today’s day? With three actions. There is power in three (like the Holy Trinity). The actions we can take are also Mary’s threefold approach in the Visitation – With Reverent Joy, Scripture, and Service:
With reverent joy: Mary’s joy was evident in her anticipation of the Lord. She travels “in haste” to Elizabeth and when she arrives, begins a joyful song of praise (Luke 1:39). She is “full of grace”. There’s no room for anything but praise and thanksgiving. It overwhelms, overflows, “overshadows” (Luke 1:35) — a word we also hear in association with Mary when the Holy Spirit blesses her with child.
With Scriptures: Remember, when Mary enters the house to see her cousin Elizabeth, she begins her prayer – her song the “Magnificat,” which is so similar to Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 2:1-10). It is considered by some historians that Mary very likely could not read, and yet, it seems that the miraculous story of Hannah’s conception of Samuel is the first thing that comes to mind when Mary sees her pregnant cousin. Mary has been raised in the scriptures. They shape the way she sees the world.
This Advent, let us challenge ourselves on our own journeys toward Bethlehem with some sort of scriptural program as our guide. We should pray parts of the Divine Office, pray with the Sunday mass readings using Lectio Divina, or explore some unique journey that may speak to you directly.
With Service: Serve our family members and those closest to us: One of the first things Mary does when she finds out she is pregnant is hasten to her cousin Elizabeth to help her! Even though Mary is in the early stages of pregnancy herself — and probably feeling sick and certainly tired — she puts all of that aside. How can we serve those closest to us this season? While it’s always good (and we are called) to serve those we don’t know, our loved ones require a special kind of patience and affection from us, especially during the holidays. Let’s consider the ways we can serve those in our closest circles who are forgotten or who have hurt us in the past. Reconciliation goes a long way to helping us see the face of Christ in others.
As we hasten through the commotion of shopping, visiting, and end-of-year work activities that will most certainly fill our Advent and work calendars this season, take that critical time each day to spend time with God in prayer. Contemplate the Magnificat – or if I could be so bold, I would recommend using the Hallow App to help guide you through various and adaptable meditations (this is not a paid advertisement).
As you reflect, imagine a young Mary, happy and radiant before gray-haired Elizabeth – and try to imagine the feelings of joy and wonder that Mary must have felt at that point. Then ask the Lord to help you focus on that wonder as you continue through advent and prepare a place for him. Let your soul proclaim the greatness of the Lord this Advent, through joy, Scripture, and service.
St. Alphonsus De Liguori
Immaculate and Blessed Virgin, since thou art the universal dispenser of all divine graces, thou art the hope of all, and my hope. I will ever thank my Lord for having granted me the grace to know thee, and for having shown me the means by which I may obtain graces and be saved. Thou art this means, O great Mother of God; for I now understand that it is principally through the merits of Jesus Christ, and then through thy intercession, that my soul must be saved. Ah! my Queen, thou didst hasten so greatly to visit, and by that means didst sanctify the dwelling of Saint Elizabeth; deign, then, to visit, and visit quickly, the poor house of my soul. Ah! hasten, then; for thou well knowest, and far better than I do, how poor it is, and with how many maladies it is afflicted; with disordered affections, evil habits, and sins committed, all of which are pestiferous diseases, which would lead it to eternal death. Thou canst enrich it, O Treasurer of God; and thou canst heal all its infirmities. Visit me, then, in life, and visit me especially at the moment of death, for then I shall more than ever require thy aid. I do not indeed expect, neither am I worthy, that thou shouldst visit me on this earth with thy visible presence, as thou hast visited so many of thy servants; but they were not unworthy and ungrateful as I am. I am satisfied to see thee in thy kingdom of heaven, there to be able to love thee more, and thank thee for all that thou hast done for me. At present I am satisfied that thou shouldst visit me with thy mercy; thy prayers are all that I desire.
Pray, then, O Mary, for me, and commend me to thy Son. Thou, far better than I do, knowest my miseries and my wants. What more can I say? Pity me; I am so miserable and ignorant, that I neither know nor can I seek for, the graces that I stand the most in need of. My most sweet Queen and Mother, do thou seek and obtain for me from thy Son those graces which thou knowest to be the most expedient and necessary for my soul. I abandon myself entirely into thy hands, and only beg the Divine Majesty, that by the merits of my Saviour Jesus He will grant me the graces which thou askest Him for me. Ask, ask, then, O most Holy Virgin, that which thou seest best for me; thy prayers are never rejected; they are the prayers of a Mother addressed to a Son, Who loves thee, His Mother; so much, and rejoices in doing all that thou desirest, that He may honour thee more, and at the same time show thee the great love He bears thee. Let us make an agreement, O Lady, that while I live confiding in thee, thou on thy part wilt charge thyself with my salvation. Amen