Monday, January 22, 2018
Rogelio Zelada - Office of Lay Ministry
Their hearts filled with joy, the shepherds have returned to their daily duty and their flocks. The extraordinary experience that broke the silence and solitude of the countryside has been great and intense. That is why they came hastily to a humble cave to find the Savior, Christ the Lord, asleep and lying in a manger, and to confirm the sign that the angel prophesied to them.
There, in the cave, along with a very young mother and her content husband, they narrated all the recent events that left them marveled and beside themselves. Celestial choirs suddenly flooded the Bethlehem night in perfect praise to the God of Heaven, hailing the glory of the Most High and announcing the extraordinary favor of God's love for humanity! Everything happened just as the heavenly messenger had indicated, and their story stuns Mary, amazed by what God is doing with her life and that of her son. Always open to the will of the Father, she knows she must keep in her heart everything that she cannot understand, because she fully trusts the decisions of God.
Eight days later, in Jerusalem, the very good and pious elder Simeon prophesies before them. “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel… And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” And Anna, an old widow dedicated to the service of the Temple, exults enthusiastically in praise of the God of Israel and proclaims that in that little child the liberation of Jerusalem has already begun.
Repeatedly, Mary keeps in her heart everything that happens around her, such as the time when they lost sight of Jesus and found him three days later in dialogue with the teachers of the law in the Temple of Jerusalem. After some complaints and scolding, the calm response of that 12-year-old boy leaves Joseph and Mary yet more confused. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Moreover, the Gospel of Luke repeats: “His mother kept all these things in her heart.”
For the evangelist, Mary of Nazareth is not just the extraordinary woman whom the Word of God chose to assume our flesh. She is the model that every believer should follow when faced with mysteries and the unknown, with inexplicable or supposedly undeserved situations, stumbles and setbacks, sufferings and joys — one who knows at all times to trust in the Lord of history; to keep everything in the heart and wait for the light that will make us see the meaning and logic of God's action in our life. The Gospel speaks to us in the first place and at all times about who Jesus is, but never neglects the extraordinary role of Mary in the history and the heart of the Church, of which she is also mother.
That is why the first Christian communities kept the memory of the Virgin Mother with great affection. A prayer composed around 250 AD by the communities from the then flourishing church of Syria, gives testimony of those believers’ veneration of Mary. In times of persecution, they cry to the Virgin using what is the most ancient Marian prayer collected by the liturgy and the believing people of God.
Edgar Lobel, an expert in ancient papyri and member of the University of Oxford, found in the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus a papyrus of the third century, preserved thanks to the dry climate of the region. It contains this prayer, written much earlier than the Hail Mary, which the liturgy of the hours and the Marian hymnal still use today. His discovery has confirmed the antiquity of this Byzantine hymn that has not ceased to be the prayer of the Church at least since the beginning of the third century.
Christians already prayed to her with the title of “Holy Mother of God” centuries before the Council of Ephesus (year 431) which, addressing the Nestorian heresy, proclaimed that Mary is the Mother of God because what has been born of Mary is the totality of the person of Christ, fully human and fully divine.
The Spanish version of the prayer (the original language is Greek) constitutes the oldest Christian form with which believers have requested the protection and maternal intercession of the glorious Mother of the Savior:
Bajo tu amparo nos acogemos, Santa Madre de Dios;
no desoigas la oración de tus hijos necesitados,
líbranos de todo peligro, ¡oh, siempre Virgen, gloriosa y bendita!
fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God.
Despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
After the day-to-day difficulties and human uncertainties, we are invited to trust in the protection, shelter, refuge and defense that we can always find under the mantle of the ever Virgin Mother of the Savior. By saying this ancient prayer, we join millions of believers who, through the centuries, have turned to her confident in her gaze; wishing, like her, to keep all things in our hearts and always waiting on God, certain that He always keeps all his promises.