Thursday, October 25, 2012

Adult Christian Education at St. Francis Fall 2012

For the Fall term of our Adult Christian Education classes we have been studying the great Latin hymns of the Church. This series will continue until Christmas. Here are my notes for the coming Sunday:

Stella Maris: Star of the Sea

  "And the Virgin's name was Mary." Let us speak a little about this name, which is said to mean "star of the sea," and which so well befits the Virgin Mother. Rightly is she likened to a star. As a star emits a ray without being dimmed, so the Virgin brought forth her Son without receiving any injury. The ray takes naught from the brightness of the star, nor the Son from His Mother's virginal integrity. This is the noble star risen out of Jacob, whose ray illumines the whole world, whose splendor shines in the heavens, penetrates the abyss, and, traversing the whole earth, gives warmth rather to souls than to bodies, cherishing virtues, withering vices. Mary is that bright and incomparable star, whom we need to see raised above this vast sea, shining by her merits, and giving us light by her example.

" –St. Bernard

Ave Maris Stella is a popular liturgical hymn of unknown origin. It can be dated back to at least the 9th century, the Codex Sangallensis, a 9th century manuscript now in the Swiss Monastery of St. Gallen. The hymn is frequently attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and sometimes has been attributed to King Robert (1031), both of whom are too late to have authored it. Originally assigned to the Annunciation Vespers, it came to be used at Vespers on all Marian feasts.

Ave, maris stella,
Dei mater alma,
atque semper virgo,
felix cœli porta.
Hail, star of the sea,
Nurturing Mother of God,
And ever Virgin
Happy gate of Heaven.
Sumens illud «Ave»
Gabrielis ore,
funda nos in pace,
mutans Evæ nomen.
Receiving that "Ave"
From the mouth of Gabriel,
Establish us in peace,
Transforming the name of "Eva"
Solve vincla reis,
profer lumen cæcis,
mala nostra pelle,
bona cuncta posce.
Loosen the chains of the guilty,
Send forth light to the blind,
Our evil do thou dispel,
Entreat (for us) all good things.
Monstra te esse matrem,
sumat per te precem
qui pro nobis natus
tulit esse tuus.
Show thyself to be a Mother:
Through thee may he receive prayer
Who, being born for us,
Undertook to be thine own.
Virgo singularis,
inter omnes mitis,
nos culpis solutos
mites fac et castos.
O unique Virgin,
Meek above all others,
Make us, set free from (our) sins,
Meek and chaste.
Vitam præsta puram,
iter para tutum,
ut videntes Jesum
semper collætemur.
Bestow a pure life,
Prepare a safe way:
That seeing Jesus,
We may ever rejoice.
Sit laus Deo Patri,
summo Christo decus,
Spiritui Sancto
honor, tribus unus. Amen.  
Praise be to God the Father,
To the Most High Christ (be) glory,
To the Holy Spirit
(Be) honour, to the Three equally. Amen.

1.       Bogus etymology nonetheless accurate theology. Maris stella = Mary, the star that leads.
2.      The first verse gives a summary both of what follows in the hymn and of the dogmatic theology of Our Lady (Joseph Connelly): four titles: Mary’s name: New Eve = Eva becomes Ave; her office: Mother of God; her privilege: Ever Virgin; her role in our salvation = blessed gate of heaven.
3.      Receiving that "Ave"/ From the mouth of Gabriel/ Establish us in peace, /Transforming the name of "Eva" – The disobedience of Eve is transformed into the obedience of the New Eve
4.      Loosen the chains of the guilty,/Send forth light to the blind,/ Our evil do thou dispel,/
Entreat (for us) all good things.
What may seem to be extravagant claims about Our Lady are explained by the context of the Annunciation: Mary is not an agent working independently of the Incarnate Son. On the contrary she establishes us in peace, loosens the chains of guilty, gives light to the blind, dispels evil in the first place only by virtue of her fiat – “be it unto be according to thy word” – which consent makes the Incarnation possible and so the saving work of her Son. In second place she accomplishes all these good only in the sense that she entreats her Son for us.
5.      Show thyself to be a Mother: /Through thee may he receive prayer/ Who, being born for us, /Undertook to be thine own. Mary has a two-fold motherhood. The Incarnation requires the assent of the Mother and the Son. So, first, the Son consents to ‘belong’ to Mary, because He consents to self-emptying pro nobis  -- “for us men and for our salvation.”(Phil. 2.7)  But, secondly, since she is the Mother of the Body of Christ, she is also the Mother of the Church the Body of Christ, and therefore the Mother of all Christians, our Mother. Behold thy mother. (John 19.27).
6.      Porta caeli = Gate of Heaven: again “Mary is the gate of heaven primarily because, through her, God came upon earth; but she is also the gate of heaven  in relation to men since she is our mother as well” (Joseph Connelly). 
7.      Virgo singularis, -- Christians do not believe in ‘virgin births’, as is sometimes charged, we believe in the virgin birth, the Incarnate Son conceived without human seed in the womb of a unique, singular one-of-a-kind Virgin. And this to indicate that our salvation from our side does not depend on anything, even a good thing like human procreation, but only on our fiat.
8.     Bestow a pure life, /Prepare a safe way:/ That seeing Jesus, /We may ever rejoice. In the Middle Ages Mary was sometimes called “our philosophy” and that is the sense in which she bestows a pure life and prepares a safe way. We do not all have to be virgins but we all do have to consent to God’s word and that is what leads to a pure life, a safe way that leads us “after this our exile” to see the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus."

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