Advent, Mary, and the Incarnation

by Joyce Stolberg

During autumn and harvest time, the Catholic Church honored all the saints and anticipated the final harvest of souls, united under the kingship of Christ. The liturgical cycle, which throughout the course of a year, celebrates every facet of the Paschal mystery, revolves again toward the longing for the coming Messiah and the celebration of the Incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the eternal Father become man. This year, you will also be moving from lectionary Cycle C to Cycle A, which presents Isaiah's idyllic images of peace and harmony taken from nature. St. Joseph's story, told in the Gospel of Matthew, subtly reinforces the Church's teaching concerning Mary's virginity. This is one of my favorite portions of the Advent narratives: it shows that, while extraordinarily virtuous, and gifted both naturally and spiritually, St. Joseph was a normal man, subject to all the trials of an ordinary life, and fully immersed in Jewish culture. Yet he was called by God to shape the human experience of Jesus in that same heritage.

You have, no doubt, already taught the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and mission of Jesus contained in Chapter Six of God Calls You by Name. This is an optimal time to reinforce the centrality of the Incarnation to God's plan for our salvation and to focus on Mary's role and on the dogmas concerning the Immaculate Conception and Assumption that define her privileges. Yes, Christmas celebrates Jesus the Baby; but in the manger scene you always find the shadow of the Cross. (Our liturgy committee insists on decorating with red poinsettias because they remind us of the blood of Christ.) In the openness of the shepherds and the wise men, we find our own call to respond to the grace offered by God. Teachings concerning angels are also timely; we honor their role as messengers in the Christmas story. See Chapters Six and Eight of God Calls You by Name.

Questions concerning the importance Catholics place on devotion to Mary have, no doubt, arisen by now. One of the most important aspects of Mary's role in our redemption is often overlooked: she was asked for and gave her consent to God's plan. The almighty all-powerful God who created heaven and earth sent his only begotten Son to become man only after receiving that consent of a humble, very young virgin. (A question arose in our group this year: "What if Mary had said no, and what would God's "Plan B" have been?" We can't answer everything!) This is why we consider Mary to be co-redemptrix with Jesus and mediatrix of graces, and this is why, while not worshiping her, we give Mary so much honor.

Since Easter comes on April 24, 2011, you have a bit more time this year to dwell lovingly and meditatively on the mystery of the Incarnation; consider postponing your introduction to the sacraments and meditate on the Christmas message as it unfolds in each of the Advent, Christmas and feast day liturgies. Review the suggestions for the weeks of Advent in the supplement of the catechist' s edition of God Calls You by Name, pages S. 64 through S. 68. Stress the difference between the commercial world's celebration of Christmas, which begins around Thanksgiving and concludes quickly after Christmas, and the Church's liturgical celebration, which begins on Christmas Eve and continues through the Sunday following Epiphany.

I offer my meditation,"O Antiphons" Our History and Our Hope, placed in a separate link, for your use sometime during Advent. It focuses on the hope of a Messiah as a theme throughout Israelite history. It surveys Salvation History in a unique way.

Some of us who went to Catholic grammar schools may remember that the months of October and especially May were often dedicated to Mary; praying the rosary was emphasized. While these months brought grace-filled devotions and left precious memories, the true liturgical month of Mary is December, when we await with her the birth of her Son, Jesus. This is a good time to introduce the rosary and other Marian devotions.

Take some time for yourself this season to allow the joy of the liturgy to permeate your spirit and nourish the spiritual life of your own families. Have a blessed Christmas, a holy New Year, and a refreshing Christmas vacation.

A Note on the Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI: Verbum Domini

Promulgated November 12, 2010

by Joyce Stolberg

Perhaps the most important document concerning Sacred Scripture that has been promulgated since the publication of "Dei Verbum", Vatican Council II, is the exhortation, "Verbum Domini" which has just been delivered by Pope Benedict XVI this November 12. The introduction, set in the prologue of St. John's Gospel, describes our use of the term, "the word", referring both to Sacred Scripture and to God's sending of his only begotten Son as a "polyphonic hymn" (Verbum Domini, Introduction) praising God's communication of himself to us. Both through biblical revelation and through the sending of his only begotten Son, God reveals himself to us.

This document is an exhortation from Pope Benedict XVI to all the bishops, clergy and faithful concerning the word of God in the life and mission of the Church. It reminds us that our Catholic Faith is deeply steeped in Sacred Scripture and it reviews the truths of our Faith on a very deep level. It urges us to immerse ourselves in Sacred Scripture, and to read the sacred text with "the mind and heart of the Church" (Verbum Domini, the Biblical Dimension of Catechesis). It devotes a considerable section to understanding and interpreting Sacred Scripture in keeping with the teaching magisterium of the Church, which enjoys the guidance of the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures, and in the light of the Church's living tradition. It also provides multiple comprehensive answers in several sections to the question which you often hear from inquirers, "Why can't I interpret Scripture for myself?"

This is a lengthy document, yet it is extremely well worth the time it takes to read it. Go to the official Vatican website, select your preferred language, and enter "Verbum Domini" into the search engine. Read it for spiritual refreshment during your Christmas break. It will strengthen and encourage you in the holy work of catechesis and it will deepen your own faith life.