Women and the Early Church
August 26, 2019
The Lady in Blue: Mary is the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever
Just like with the Early Church Fathers, Blessed Mary is as much a mother to me as had been my biological mother throughout my life. The prayers I offer to her, like those of the Patristic Period (writings of the Early Church Fathers), are as real and tangible to me as when I ask my beloved wife, “Remember me in your prayers, today.” Yes, I believe Mary watches over me, like a mother hen watches over her many chicks. For this, I am more than grateful!
And, it’s with this in mind that I’d like to share the following TRUE story …
A few years ago when celebrating Mass on a Sunday morning, I saw a dark-skinned woman, veiled in blue, come into the nave at St. Luke’s Church (where I had been serving as Priest-in-Charge) in Colorado Springs, CO. Surprisingly, she didn’t come into the pew area but instead walked to where our Lady Chapel was located (I thought at the time that she was probably going to the nursery [next to the Lady Chapel] although she wasn’t carrying a child that I could readily see).
After the consecration, as I was communing my parishioners, I wondered why this mysterious woman had not come to join us at the altar railing; just then, Ed—my adult acolyte asked me, “Father, where’s the woman in blue?” I was pleased that he had seen her, too; and that she wasn’t just some figment of my imagination.
After Mass, Ed and I began to contemplate the significance of the “woman in blue” and what seemed like her miraculous appearance and disappearance. As we shared this visitation with Fr. Walter, my priest associate, almost simultaneously we declared: “It was the blessed Mother of God!” Chills ran up and down my spine, as we began to ponder the significance of such a sighting.
Weeks later, I was visiting with my brother priest and friend, Fr. Anthony, who is an arch-priest with a Russian Orthodox Church in town. So convinced was he, by my telling of this extraordinary apparition, he asked that I immediately contact his iconographer and, with his priestly blessing, have his iconographer paint the plain, white spaces that occupy the altar backdrop around the tabernacle on our high altar with icons of the Blessed Mother of Jesus.
It’s also interesting to note that the altar was a previously consecrated Roman Catholic altar that was given to the church as a gift from a now-closed Roman Catholic parish—with the relics of St. Louis, King of France, and patron Saint of Franciscan Tertiaries, still embedded in the altar stone. (By the way, I am an Oblate with the Franciscan Order of Divine Compassion and we were hosting a Chapter at St. Luke’s at the time of this Marian sighting.) It’s also interesting that the first known icon of the Black Madonna was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist—for which the church had been named!
Add to this the fact that years later, as I was praying with a handmade Rosary that I received as a gift while attending the Roman Catholic Bishop’s pro-life dinner (which they gave as a present to any priest who was in attendance—I just happened to be Anglican/Episcopal). The beads—by the way—were silver, metallic. Well recently, I brought the same Rosary to St Luke’s Lady Chapel to pray to the blessed Mother that I had seen there some years before—now, I did not see her, but I definitely felt her real presence. The next morning, when I woke up, the largest bead had turned color—like gold, I’d say. I asked a friend if I could look at his Rosary that he received as a gift, too; and, indeed, the color on mine was noticeably different from his—my bead was gold; his bead was silver.
So, what’s the point, Michael? … I’m just saying, that Mary is as genuine an historical figure as written about by the Early Church Fathers as was Saints Paul or Peter; and still, like what I had miraculously experienced some time ago, is available to anybody for veneration (not worship) today as she was over 2,000 years ago.
Contributor – Fr. Michael O’Donnell, PhD
August 5, 2019
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY
Story-telling by the Church Fathers regarding the Blessed Mother of Jesus is rather extraordinary. Especially rewarding is the narrative Saint Gregory of Palamas tells of Mary’s adventures into the Holy of Holies; that’s correct, Mary was so blessed and full of innocence before God that she was permitted where the Priests of the Temple feared to trod! Saint Gregory writes:
“In her manner she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies …Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which she was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birth-giving.”
Imagine the absolute splendor of such a trek: “To boldly go where no non-priest had gone before!” Yes, this was the sacred state of the Blessed Virgin; whose relationship with God was so deeply holy that she was allowed to bask in the real presence of the Almighty, day and night.
And now, because Christ’s death and sacrifice has torn the Temple Curtain in two, “nothing can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:31, NLT). And yet, there was something already about Mary that allowed her to go deeper still into the graces of the Creator. Oh, how God adored and venerated Mary–and we should, too!
Therefore, let us continue to read more about Mary through the writings of the early Church Fathers:
“And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God [John 1:1], and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria
“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20)…. In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” ~ St. Ambrose
“…The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith…. For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve…. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” ~St Irenaeus of Lyon
Contributor – Fr. Michael O’Donnell, PhD