Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Feast of the Virgin 

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Blessed Virgin. This should strike us as slightly odd, given that, in nearly every other case, the Church celebrates a saint on the day of their exaltation to heavenly glory, not on the day of their birth. Other than Our Lord, there is only one other saint honored in this way - St. John the Baptist, the Lord's precursor. These two are singled out not only because of their virtues, but because of their unique and irreplaceable role in salvation history.

I recall, nearly four years ago, wandering through the streets of Jerusalem. My sister-in-law, who accompanied me to Israel, had taken the day off, exhausted from my dragging her all around the city the previous day, so I was alone. Somewhere just off the Via Dolorosa, probably a stone's throw from the Dome of the Rock, I passed a stone archway which led down a dark stairwell. A squat, bearded Arab, gesturing erratically, summoned me to the archway, and I descended with him down an unlit and uneven stairwell. When we reached the bottom, I found myself in a damp basement, a rocky, dirt floor surrounded by four roughly-hewn stone walls, lit by a lone candle in the far corner. The man pointed around the room, and somehow managed to communicate (with only minimal English) that the place I was standing was the very spot in which the Blessed Virgin had entered the world, two millenia ago. I nodded in genuine appreciation, handed him the smallest coin in my possession, and ascended the stairs again. When I passed under the arch again, I noticed for the first time a set of words, barely visible, engraved above it, 'Birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary.'

I didn't think much of it at the time, as there's plenty to see in Jerusalem, most more significant than this, and I wasn't exactly glowing with Marian piety at the time. But whenever this feast comes around every year, my mind is instantly drawn back to those very concrete memories. I think this is one of the functions of pilgrimages, along the same lines as the relics of the saints. They 'concretize' the decisive events and persons of our faith in a way that doctrines and liturgy - of themselves - can never do. They connect us in a very physical and bodily way with these trans-historical 'happenings,' which otherwise might remain abstract and noetic truths, given dutiful assent of the mind but little thought besides. A bodily or spatial connection impinges upon the memory and intellect in a way that a mere mental affirmation simply cannot. Even if the truths of our faith are, ultimately, capable of being grasped only by an informed intellect raised up by grace, we remain nonetheless embodied creatures; and as such even our intellects long for our bodies to share in the fruits they taste.

# posted by Jamie : 8:27 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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Books Recently Read or Currently Reading

John Milbank's Theology & Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (next in stack)

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Michael Wyschogrod's Body of Faith: God and the People Israel (reading)

J. B. Schneewind's Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy (reading)

Paul Hacker's Ego in Faith: Martin Luther and the Origins of Anthopocentric Religion (finished: 3 stars)

Edward Peter's Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering this Often-Ministerpreted Teaching (finished: 1 star)

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