Saturday, December 19, 2009

Our Lady in art... and ads.


Virgin most admirable.
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I heard, and unfortunately glimpsed an example of a blasphemous ad depicting Our Lady and St. Joseph; the so-called Christian group - I believe Anglicans - who created the image have defended their statement with some sort of justification of course.  (Not interested.)  Whatever the case, it is doctrinally wrong.  I can't get over the fact that in our age, when ordinary men and women are the most highly educated people in the recorded history of the world, many are not above promulgating such nonsense.  And at the same time, we continue to pay such exorbitant fees to send our young people to colleges and universities which destroy faith and contradict authentic Christian dogma and teaching.  But I digress.
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Personal devotion.
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Of course anyone may have private devotion or meditations regarding the incidental details and humanity of the Holy Family, so long as they are not in opposition to truth.  For instance, years ago Rene Voillaume reflected in a homily that images of the Blessed Virgin collapsing, or fainting at the Crucifixion repulsed him and he went on to explain why, crediting the Mother of God with interior knowledge of the why and wherefore of her Son's sacrifice.  In other words she was too strong, too stalwart to faint like an ordinary woman.  Fr. Voillaume was making a solid point, just as those artists he criticized were doing by showing the collapsed Virgin.  You see, in showing the Holy Virgin collapsed in the arms of the holy mourners, (I suspect) what many painters were attempting to illustrate was the Co-redemptrix' experience of a night of the spirit so profound it was akin to natural death - albeit spiritual or mystical.  Nevertheless, both are opinions and both opinions point to a deeper truth without conflicting with Church teaching.
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Dogma.
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On the other hand, the blasphemous nonsense depicted in the New Zealand ad bears no resemblance to truth, nor does it reveal anything true about the Holy Family or the Virgin Birth.  Our Lady is the Immaculate Conception, Our Lord's birth is the Virgin Birth.  Unbelievers usually get the two mixed up, and/or mock the two together.  Believe it or not, there was an enormous Church Council once convened in Ephesus to discuss these matters.  The result of which came the solemn definition (dogma) that the Virgin Mary is truly the Mother of God.  Therefore Mary was a virgin before, during and after giving birth.  Profane or even pious reasoning may not agree with that, but such ideas are mistaken.  People of good faith can never fully comprehend these mysteries through natural knowledge or understanding, but that is no excuse to deny it, dismiss it, reject it, or mock it.
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Witnesses to truth.
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Early in Advent my friend Elena posted a wonderful reflection concerning the Perpetual Virginity Of Holy Mary, Mother of God.  With permission, I cite a couple excerpts from authorative sources Elena included in her post.
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Even in the minds of many of the faithful, enfeebled by a forty year dearth of popular orthodox catechesis, a tragic confusion holds sway concerning the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, her virginity before, during, and after childbirth. There are many, alas, who, affected by various mutations of creeping Nestorianism and Arianism, have no grasp of what it means to call the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Those who do not confess the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring them and celebrating them, fall inevitably into one or another of the classic Christological heresies. - Fr. Mark of Vultus Christi
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The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it." And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the "Ever-virgin." - CCC
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And the most beautiful...
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Who is this gate (Ezekiel 44:1-4), if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity. (St. Ambrose of Milan, The Consecration of a Virgin and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, 8:52; c. 391 AD)
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Art: "Nativity" - Fra Fillipo Lippi.  You see from this painting (and types like it) the tradition of the Virgin adoring the new-born Infant Jesus, on the floor as it were - without cradle or manger - while the Holy Mother shows no sign of just given birth.  The composition was constructed to express the ineffable, the dogma of the Virgin Birth, and the Divine Incarnation, as foretold by the prophets.

15 comments:

  1. Beautiful explanation, Terry. Very well done! Thank you.

    Merry Christmas.

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  2. Terry, thank you, once again, for sharing the "fruits of your contemplation"...I just want to add that at Christmastide during the Roman Canon when we add the phrase about Mary's Virginity, "before,during and after" the birth of our Lord, it really hits me.
    I heard once (don't know the source) that the early Fathers described this mystery of Mary's perpetual virginity during the birth of our Lord as "light penetrating a glass"; I have always thought that image was very impressive and expressive of the birth of Jesus.
    I did not like or understand in the film, "Jesus of Nazareth", Mary's wailing in childbirth because the Church has always taught it was miraculous and she did not undergo the natural pain and experience of childbirth.
    I could be wrong on this; but there is something so poignant about Mary's purity and Jesus' miraculous conception and birth.
    And I agree. Art must depict the truth. As Hans Urs von Balthasar has written, "Truth is Symphonic", in other words, the prism of truth can reveal seemingly disparate elements that somehow are harmonious, as long as it is, in fact, revealing truth.
    This blasphemous image you mention cannot depict this; it reminds me of the (God forgive me) "Piss Christ" crucifix immersed in urine or our Lady's image made with cow dung that is supposed to be art.
    Not in a Catholic sense, no way.

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  3. I've never had a problem with artwork showing Mary fainting. What she endured that day was beyond anything any human moher has ever suffered.

    As for the New Zealand blashpemy I think these people should be honest with themselves and go visit a fetish hut-- they aren't Christian anymore.

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  4. Terry, you have the most thought provoking posts. Maybe a little too much so...

    Nazareth Priest... Hold the phone. I think I am a creetan. I did not know this. How can this be? I was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. All of the men in my family were/are educated by the Jesuits. Both of my mothers were nuns. And now you say: "the Church has always taught it was miraculous and she did not undergo the natural pain and experience of childbirth."

    I cannot begin to tell you all the things that I have learned in the last several months that I did not know. Some things it seems I am hearing for the first time-- Joseph's dream re Mary, for e.g. and others, via listening with the ear of my heart.

    Father, I have had a qestion percolating for a while: ( this probably sounds mad) but what would things have looked like if Mary did not provide her fiat. I know this seems ridiculous. Thank you, Padre. Whew.
    Maria

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  5. NB--my above post should read " both of my mother's sisters were nuns.
    Maria

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  6. Pinsky82: As to your question: it is not ridiculous.
    We would be in deeper, deeper doo-doo than we are at present. Not very inspiring (sorry!) but I think to the point.
    That is what is so glorious about our Lady's "fiat" ("Be it done unto me according to thy word.") Every time we pray this in the Angelus in our community, it hits me like a thunderbolt.
    Mary is God's greatest "work of art"; she is the faithful Handmaid of the Lord. We should be eternally grateful for her "fiat" as well as St. Joseph's.

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  7. Pinsky82: For your further reading, Ludwig Ott's "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" has an entry on the miraculous nature of our Lord's birth that preserved our Lady's virginal integrity (which presupposes the lack of undergoing the natural childbirth process). He quotes St. Augustine: "Christ's miraculous emergence from the unimpaired womb of the Virgin Mother finds its ultimate explanation in the Omnipotence of God. St. Augustine says: 'in such things the whole ground of the mystery is the might of Him who permits it to happen'".
    Ott also includes Pope Pius XII (now Venerable)in his encyclical,
    "Mystici corporis": "It was she who gave miraculous birth to Christ our Lord."(pp.205-206)

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  8. Marian art is important to us, that's why it is mocked. Anything good is mocked. From the Holy Father, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2009, on Mary (in art):

    Mary is a sweet and reassuring presence. In her discreet style, she gives everyone peace and hope, both in the happy and sad moments of life. In churches, chapels or on the walls of buildings there is a painting, mosaic or a statue as a reminder of the presence of the Mother, constantly watching over her children. Here too in Piazza di Spagna, Mary is placed high up as though on guard over Rome.

    What does Mary tell the city? Of what does her presence remind us? It reminds us that "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom 5: 20), as the Apostle Paul wrote. She is the Immaculate Mother who tells people in our day too: Do not be afraid, Jesus has defeated evil, he has uprooted it, delivering us from its rule.

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  9. Thank you for the link, Terry and for your beautiful reflections which are a reparation in themselves to the Holy Mother of God.

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  10. Terry,

    Thanks so much for defending Our Lady's Virginity. It is very refreshing to witness a layman holding fast to the three-fold virginity of the Blessed Mother without watering it down. The New Zealand blasphemy should rightly horrify Catholics, it seems to me. God bless you.

    On another matter, I have read somewhere that popes have disapproved of images of the swoon as being contrary to sacred scripture. Stabat Mater. I know The Dictionary of Mary states this, but without sourcing it. I remember once finding the primary source for this, but do not now recall where. I am sure you are right that many of the artists who so depicted Our Lady where attempting to convey something mystical, not literal.

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  11. Nazareth Priest: Sorry I am just now responding. Fell asleep after shoveling snow. Thank you so very much for your generous responses. You know I think we hear and learn with the heart that is led by the Holy Spirt, when God makes the heart ready for Him. I began attending daily Mass 4-5 months ago and it has changed everything.
    SF-- " where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom 5: 20)". It is as if I am hearing these things for the first time. I will thankfully read Ott and the Pius XII. Thank you all for your insights.
    Maria--it is funny. I was born in the Marian Year of 54 and named after Our Lady.

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  12. Fra Angelo - I am hoping they were attempting to illustrate that.

    Maria - not to worry, everything is revealed in time and errors are corrected... it is the Holy Spirit who corrects our conscience. For many years I thought the Virgin Birth was allegorical. Pray the rosary very much and you will understand everything.

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  13. I feel consoled and reassured that I am not alone in misunderstanding a fundamental. I awakened from a dream a while back in which I was given to understood that the Holy Spiriy integrates the personality.

    Thank you, Terry. I pray the rosary but often have to fight my inclination toward laziness. I often fall asleep in my efforts. I will take your advice.

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  14. AVE MARIA!

    Bravo Terry,
    Well written and well said!

    Thank you!

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  15. Recently, a priest said in a homily that we should all be handmaids of the Lord. I had to assume that "handmaid" is an all-inclusive term, like "mankind."

    He's right, though, we should all be handmaids of the Lord.

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