Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And the Virgin's Name was Mary

Today is the feast of the Conception of the Theotokos in the womb of St. Anne.  I've always thought this was a beautiful feast (maybe because I like to see priests wearing blue), but for a long while, I was pretty confused, too.  In the Roman rite, it's just called the "Immaculate Conception [of Mary]." But as a kid, I guess I assumed it was the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb.  I know--it doesn't make sense if you think about the timing, but really! The gospel for this feast is the Annunciation, it's Christmas time, we're all thinking about Baby Jesus.. my confusion was natural (up until I was about 9, when I finally figured it out) ;)

Traditionally, the story goes something like this (forgive me for any wrong details--I've only heard it a few times).  Anne and Joachim had been praying for a child for many years. One day, an angel appeared to Anne telling her she would conceive a child who would become a queen with great power. At the same time, an angel appeared to Joachim with the same message. They ran to tell each other the good news and they met at the city gates.  The image of the icon here shows their meeting (yes, there's a "couch" (=bed) behind them--it is the conception of Mary, after all).  Anne's robes are billowing out behind her in her haste to meet her husband; Joachim's feet are firmly planted--a strong, reliable figure.  Their faces are touching to show their love for each other.

Even the name, Mary, means "longed-for child" in Hebrew.  Truly Mary is a longed-for woman of the ages.  Through the grace of God, she was spared the stain of original sin, and through her consent to God's plan for her life, the Savior of the world became man and dwelt among us.  That's why the gospel for today is the Annunciation--because Anne's conception of Mary Immaculate points to the Incarnation of the Christ.

The nativity narratives tell us that "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).  I've always loved representations of Mary in nativity sets (maybe that's why I have so many?).  Each one, for me, is a different interpretation of that line. This year, Daddy decided that he would let each of us pick one of Momma's nativity sets for a Christmas present.  I chose Momma's hand-made red clay set. I've always loved the way the garments of the figures seem to flow and have such a warm grace to them.  Mary, of course, is my favorite. She's always been my favorite. I think this clay set captures well many of the emotions of that Holy Night.

The angel, so reverent and awe-struck at the God-Made-Man

The shepherd girl, with the gift of a bird, almost shy at what she's witnessing

The wise men on their camels, journeying from afar.  I love the "Byzantine" posture of these figures--arms crossed over their breast, bearing their treasures to the new-born King

And Mary, Star of the Sea. I can only imagine the wonder and joy you ponder in your heart as you gaze on your Son, our Savoir.

1 comment:

  1. I think I was way older than that when my confusion about this feast was cleared up. It is quite confusing that the Annuciation Gospel is read. In fact, Andrew was confused for a moment yesterday. Not that he doesn't know, but he had a brain fart...Anyway, I love what the Indian priest said at litury yesterday. "You notice we learn of the Annunciation today. It is this reason she was immaculately conceived-to be mother of the Incarnation. This is her purpose."