Mother of God at the Poolside

Last year the attendance for the Mass for the Solemnity of the Mother of God was poor so the parish pastor decided to have just one Mass today. Happily the church was packed. Our splendid choir sang, there were seventeen perfectly drilled young male servers. Fr Michael Cassabon–our newly ordained priest was home from Rome for the holidays. He was our principal celebrant with Fr. Newman, Fr Bart (resplendent in blue Maronite vestments) and myself concelebrating. We were also joined in the congregation by Sister Marie Bernadette– the latest of our Nashville Domincan sisters–the fourth come to work in our parish school.

Fr Michael preached a splendid sermon about the origin of the term ‘Mother of God’, named and knocked Nestorianism and pointed out the practical effects of heresy–calling for us to integrate the physical and spiritual in our own lives. It is certainly true that Christological heresy which separates the divine and human natures produces a type of Christian who is religiously pious people and otherworldly, but don’t make any real connections with their spiritual lives and the nitty gritty of the ordinary world.

What also impresses me about the feast of the Mother of God is how necessary it is to continue to be aware of Christological heresies and how they continue to crop up. It is commonplace here in the American south, when discussing the Virgin Mary with Protestants to discover that they actually hold to Nestorianism (even though they do not understand it as such) By the swimming pool one day last summer I was talking to a very nice Presbyterian lady, and when she began asking about our beliefs concerning the Virgin Mary I said, “When you consider what really happened–that God took flesh from the Blessed Virgin–that he had her physical make up–you can see how important she really was.”

The good lady was shocked, “But that is not how it happened!” said she. “Mary was simply the channel through which God came into the world.” In other words, the divine nature and the human nature were not really unified in our Lord. The interesting thing is, this Christological heresy is invariably linked with a Eucharistic heresy. Such people do not believe in the true unity of the divine and human nature in Jesus Christ–neither do they believe in the transformation of the bread and wine into the body, blood soul and divinity of our Lord.

Alas, I am on a theological ramble. What is most glorious about today’s feast is that all the theology was gathered up into a wonderful celebration of the Mass where all the truth of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is gathered up into one great sacrifice of praise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05837405179540528645 Rose Marie

    Amen!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06624317806947588259 Rachel Gray

    A Protestant friend of mine recently announced on her blog that it doesn’t matter how dead bodies are treated because our bodies are merely “useful mobility devices for our true selves, our souls.” I believed the same thing as a Protestant; we never delved into the question of why such stress is laid in the Bible on *physical* resurrection, both Christ’s and ours at the last day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I wouldn’t want to blame all Protestants for holding to Christological heresies. I think most want to hold to the historic Christian faith, but there is an extraordinary amount of ignorance, poor teaching and misconceptions out there. Much of this is due to the drip down effect of liberal protestant theology–which denies the supernatural or says it doesn’t matter. As a result it is more and more widespread–even among ‘conservative’ Evangelicals to discover that they don’t think the historicity of the resurrection or the miracles really matter.However, this is merely a subjective impression, and I am willing to be corrected.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17691145638703824456 kkollwitz

    The unity of Jesus’ human & divine natures serves as a useful point of reference for other things which we separate at our peril, e.g., the persons of the Trinity, the body and the soul, the procreative & unitive aspects of sex, the tasty & nutritive aspects of food, and dare I say it, faith and works.Fortunately the Church has had practice looking at the big picture since, well, at least Arius.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15000747762174079070 PraiseDivineMercy

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15000747762174079070 PraiseDivineMercy

    It seems to me all this started with the nonsense of of “absolute depravity.” which leads one to the gnostic conclusion that all things of the flesh are evil and all things of spirit are good. Thus, (they believe) Jesus cannot be one with his human nature, because human nature is evil. As a human being, Mary cannot be given any honor, since in the end she is only a human being. This is turn, leads to the “once saved always saved” theology, since God must simply cover up sin rather than wiping it away (as Catholics believe He does through Grace).When I hear sermons about an “assurance of salvation” and the evils of “Catholic guilt” I sometimes let out a bitter laugh.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00719610017317232480 Mary Martha

    “the parish pastor decided to have just one Mass today”So there were four priests available to say Mass at your parish – and there was only one Mass? Priests wonder why people don’t attend Masses… ever consider it might be because Masses aren’t offered?I did not attend Mass today because the parishes that I attend had few Masses at ridiculously early times. Yes, I could have gotten up early and gone – but honestly, the day after New Years Eve – it just isn’t going to happen. Honestly, is a mid-day Mass on New Years Day all that ridiculous an expectation? I figure that it was less than 50% as important to attend Mass today as it is on an average Sunday – as there are fewer than half as many Masses available. Sorry to rant – but this has just hit a nerve. It’s like the latest evidence to me that single people are pariahs in the Catholic Church. Early morning Mass on Jan 1 is fine for families who likely weren’t out late – but for those of us who are single and out late (not unreasonable behavior) a choice of Masses would be nice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I sympathize. Our pastor made the decision to have only one mass after last year’s vigil mass was poorly attended. He admitted his mistake yesterday and next year it will be different. My own feeling is that we should lay on the right number of masses and that put the obligation on to the people, and we shouldn’t alter the number of masses only according to attendance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00719610017317232480 Mary Martha

    It’s good to know that your parish will offer more Masses next year. I think that there should be some sort of a standard policy to run the same schedule on a Holy Day of Obligation that you do on Sunday. If it is as important an obligation as Sunday Mass then shouldn’t Mass be as available?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02943402221380643610 John

    WHO did that painting? I love it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14661155158237286805 Heide Seward (aka, Miss Climpson)

    Father, thank you for another thoughtful post. I agree with kkollwitz that you make an excellent case for the way other dualisms flow from the dualism re. the nature of Jesus. Funny how those old Gnostic heresies never really go away, they just continue to reassert themselves in new guises. Hence the absolute necessity of the teaching authority of The Church. It was this realization, among other things, that persuaded my husband and me to leave the Episcopal Church and, with great joy, “swim the Tiber” last Easter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04116805584664907353 Elizabeth

    I think most want to hold to the historic Christian faith, but there is an extraordinary amount of ignorance, poor teaching and misconceptions out there.Much of this is due to the drip down effect of liberal protestant theology–which denies the supernatural or says it doesn’t matter. In this case, I hesitate to blame this issue on liberalism. I think that it is more likely to be a reaction to Catholic beliefs. In our attempts to avoid what we perceive as idolatry, we have been more focused on defining what Mary is not and not on what she is.

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t want to blame all Protestants for holding to Christological heresies. I think most want to hold to the historic Christian faith, but there is an extraordinary amount of ignorance, poor teaching and misconceptions out there.Much of this is due to the drip down effect of liberal protestant theology–which denies the supernatural or says it doesn’t matter. As a result it is more and more widespread–even among ‘conservative’ Evangelicals to discover that they don’t think the historicity of the resurrection or the miracles really matter.I earned my MDiv from a large Evangelical seminary and I am currently a grad student at a Baptist University. As a result, I know a lot of Evangelicals across the theological spectrum. For the vast majority, the historicity of the resurrection matters greatly, as do the miracles. It seems to me that Bultmann’s “demythologizing” did not really take hold. I could be wrong–maybe I am reading my own convictions on these matters onto others. But it seems to me that a lot of Evangelicals are quite committed to these core doctrines. So, although I fully agree that few Evangelicals pay sufficient attention to Christological–or Trinitarian–theology…I am not sure the culprit is liberalism. In the case of Nestorianism with respect to Marian doctrines, I agree with Elizabeth–it seems that the culprit is often a reflexive (and unfortunate) overreaction to perceived excesses in Mariology. This keeps many sincere and thoughtful folks from even considering Catholic arguments. Beyond this, I am afraid that much of the time the problem is intellectual laziness. Many simply do not want to invest in the intellectual heavy lifting taht comes with thinking theologically. And because the Magisterium holds no authority for these folks, there is no impetus to engage in that sort of work. The default setting is: “Agree to disagree…That’s just what Catholics believe.”Of course, there are those who take these issues seriously and carefully consider the questions, and try not to reject Catholic arguments on the basis of partisan loyalty (i.e. principled dissenters) but I think these folks are in the minority.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    thank you anonymous. I hear you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02943402221380643610 John

    If anyone is interested in the answer to my question, the painting is by Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov, 1848 to 1926. He was the son of a village priest and grandson of an icon painter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03028346716140781309 radio45

    You know you are right!! I was having a discussion with a Protestant woman about Mary, Mother of God. She could not understand that Mary was to honored. She was just a channel! At the time I could not grasp what she was saying. Now I understand where she is coming from. Before we were at a disconnect because I couldn’t understand her position. That’s what she was saying all along. Thank you!


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