Our Lady in Advent

“Clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” the immaculate Virgin is present to Advent in her apocalyptic garments. The mothering of Christ makes our feast of Christmas as much about her as about the Child. The feast of the Immaculate Conception came this week, to the confusion of anyone who does not understand the sequence of Christian festivals; came and went.

Tota pulchra es!” has been the formal declaration in the years since 1854, when Pope Pius IX created this feast, while defining the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. But it is of far greater antiquity, in the Eastern Church, in ancient “Celtic” Ireland and late Anglo-Saxon England, among other places. There was nothing new in this tradition. Those papal proclamations that are unquestionably valid confirm and are compatible with what was already known; only a novelty could be invalid. For a pope’s private opinions and beliefs are of interest only to historians and shrinks; he thinks with the Church when he is inclined to be sane.

Our Lady, as “spiritual embodiment” of Wisdom, was known to the Prophets long before her own birth into this world — “from eternity, before the earth was made.” This “attribute” will itself be inherited, in its mystery, by Our Saviour — this feminine quality that transcends the outwardly female, or male.

By our recollection of Mary, we Christians sail beyond the dogmatic; for dogma of any kind can only be understood by the adult mind that has been trained (not necessarily successfully) in logic. We do not comprehend wisdom as a formula or scheme, laid out with reminders on charts. We receive it through faith, whole. She “flies to us,” in the words of the third-century Marian prayer; she comes to our rescue when we are in need.

In this season, the Christian’s thoughts are with Mary, as they are upon the second coming of Christ. For this return is a certainty we find in her, and through her we conduct our searching. His return was also promised, from His lips. We were told to remain prayerfully aware: that “heaven and earth shall pass away,” in an unpredictable day and hour.

A Christmas will come, that no one was expecting.