Saturday, September 3, 2011


MARY The Church at the Source, Ignatius Press 2005

 Right up to the end I wasn't at all sure that I was going to review this anthology of articles from Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. It's a great collection of articles that address the specific role of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the very life of the Church. It's well worth a read.

As I say, good as the book is, I had no intention of recommending it specifically until I got into the very last article in the book by Hans Urs von Balthasar, entitled: "The Catholicity of the Church" pages 157-176. The original in German was a lecture delivered in Cologne on 13 September 1972, and I sort of feel cheated that I haven't read it sooner. The article represents many things for me, but I think it could be for many who read it the cornerstone of their apology (as in apologetics, as in defense of something) for the Church.

Permit me to gift you with three paragraphs from the article and encourage you to claim it for your own:

"The foundation of the Church's catholicity is this fundamental act that takes place in the chamber of Nazareth - and in it alone. This catholicity is the unconditional openness of the ecce ancilla, which, by giving God unlimited room beforehand, is the creaturely counterpart of God's infinitely self-giving love.

Those who think that the Church started later - with the vocation of the Twelve, for example, or with the bestowal of supreme authority on Peter - have already missed the heart of the matter. They can never go beyond an empirical or sociological reality that cannot be qualitatively different from the synagogue. Even the "infallibility" of office then hangs perilously in the air. It has nowhere else to put down roots than the fallibility of the human beings who exercise it.

... How could the Catholica come into being anywhere if her inmost reality were not created at the very first instant of the New Covenant - as the Mother of the Child, the Mother who has to be a virgin in flesh and in spirit so that she can be the incarnate, catholic consent to the unconditional penetration of the divine Word into the flesh?" (page 164)

From the first half of the anthology, our present Holy Father also gifted me with an image that has always been part of my life and devotion but has taken on more depth and detail. The article written to open a Marian conference in 1992 is entitled: "Et Incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto" (pages 81-95) and my quote is from page 88:

"Luke repeatedly brings this motif of the new Temple, the true Ark of the Covenant, into play. This is particularly true in the angel's greeting to Mary, "rejoice, full of grace." Today hardly anyone disputes that these words of the angel recorded for us by Luke take up the substance of the promise to daughter Zion in Zephaniah 3:14 that announces to her that God dwells in her midst. Thus, Mary is shown by the angel's greeting to be both daughter Zion in person and the place of God's inhabitation, the holy tent, upon which the cloud of God's presence rests. The Fathers seized upon this idea, which in turn had a decisive influence on ancient Christian iconography. Joseph is identified by the flowering staff as a high priest, as the prototype of the Christian bishop. For her part, Mary is the living Church. It is upon her that the Holy Spirit descends, thereby making her the new Temple, Joseph, the just man, is appointed to be the steward of the mysteries of God, the paterfamilias and guardian of the sanctuary, which is Mary the bride and the Logos in her. He thus becomes the icon of the bishop, to who the bride is betrothed; she is not at his disposal but under his protection. Every detail here is directed toward the trinitarian God, but, precisely for this reason, his being with us in history becomes particularly apparent and tangible in the mystery of Mary and the Church."

I cannot help but think of the beautiful scene of the Nativity in the apse of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in my home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Perhaps providence will place an icon or an artist on my path such that I can keep this beautiful image not only in my heart but before my eyes? In any case, if you run across "MARY The Church at the Source" Ignatius Press 2005, the read will be well worth your while.

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