Fourth Sunday of Advent – Day of Prayer for Expectant Mothers (18 & 19/12/21)

posted 3 Jan 2022, 03:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent – Day of Prayer for Expectant Mothers (18 & 19/12/21)

Back when I was beginning my training for the priesthood, I began with a propaedeutic, or preparation year, at the English College in Valladolid, in Spain. During the course of the week the seminary chapel was closed to the public, but it was open for Sunday Mass, and we used to have local people, either English or Spanish, who would join us for our Mass in English. Despite the fact that the Catholic Church is one all over the world, each country has its own local customs. Being English, we followed the English custom for an Advent wreath, with three purple candles, one rose candle, and a white candle in the centre. One of the visiting Spaniards was intrigued by it, as their custom is to have four different coloured candles, and the fourth candle is blue, for Our Lady.

Since Vatican II, we now have a three-yearly cycle of readings, but the Fourth Sunday of Advent always mentions Our Lady: Year A’s Gospel covers the dilemma that St Joseph had when he found that Our Lady was with child; Year B is the Annunciation, and today’s Gospel for Year C is the Visitation.

As we also know, whilst the Catholic Church all over the world is one, with each country having its own legitimate local customs, the Protestant world’s both beliefs and customs differ across the globe, but one of the things that unites them is their belief that we show too much honour to Our Lady.

So first, should we honour Our Lady? Why of course! That point is not up for dispute. Elizabeth honoured Our Lady. In today’s Gospel she says, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Perhaps the Protestants would say that they realise that Our Lady should be given some honour, but the question is, how much?

The town of Bethlehem is famous because of it being the birthplace of Our Lord. Previously it was just a fairly small place of no real significance; maybe beyond Israel no-one had heard of it, except for Jews who heard it mentioned in their Scriptures, such as in today’s first reading. It was because of the birth of Our Lord that it became internationally famous. Perhaps it’s a bit like Burslem – before the arrival of the pottery industry, who in London

had heard of Burslem? But it went on to have the title of Mother Town of the Potteries. And just like Hanley is the capital, if you like, of the Potteries, so Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The distances are roughly similar: Bethlehem to Jerusalem, I am informed is 5.52 miles, whilst Burslem to Hanley is 2.29 miles. And sadly, just like Burslem has declined with the Pottery industry, Bethlehem today is in a rather sorry state, in large part due to a great literal wall of partition separating it from Israel, making travel and commerce rather difficult. Following Covid, lack of pilgrims have made things even more difficult, and Friends of the Holy Land have done much to support desperate families.

Is this the way Our Lady should be treated? Did God simply use her for the birth of Christ, for her only then to be discarded? In this country, when I was young, we had Queen Elizabeth, and also the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother had an obviously lesser role than the Queen, but she was honoured nonetheless. Our Lady is mother of the Lord – she isn’t divine, but honoured she must be. She was prepared for her role by being conceived without Original Sin. She co-operated with God completely, remained ever-Virgin, and like Our Lord, never committed a single sin in her life. She was given to us as our mother by Our Lord whilst He was on the Cross. At the end of her life, she was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. And now she intercedes for us before her Son. Think how powerful her prayers must be: the apostle St James wrote in his letter in the New Testament, James 5:16, that “the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully”. When we pray, almighty God can see all sorts of conflicts and self-interest in our prayers, but when she prays, He sees the total love and purity of her intentions.

So do we pay too much honour to Our Lady? No. We honour Our Lady; we worship the Lord. The different is important. And we pay Our Lady more honour than any other human being, because she is mother of the Lord and our mother too. Whilst Burslem and Bethlehem struggle, Our Lady is in glory with Our Lord. Because we worship Our Lord, we give Our Lady appropriate honour, and that’s the way it should be.