What is Islam Part 4: The Mother of God in Islam

The Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne

The Second Vatican Council in its declaration on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions Nostra Aetate declared that “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems… (who) also honor Mary, His (Jesus’) Virgin Mother, and at times they also call on her with devotion.”  That is true, as far as it goes, but incomplete.  There are very important differences in the understanding of the Virgin Mary’s role in human history which reflect on the entirely different worldview that the Catholic has regarding his Creator, his relationship with that Creator, and his destiny.

The Qur’an relates the story of the Annunciation twice, both in sura 3 (The Family of Imran) and in sura 19 (Maryam).  Both of these episodes reveal a strong familiarity with Saint Luke’s account (they both begin with the message of the angel to Zechariah concerning John the Baptist and an altered version of his subsequent dumbness) of the same event, but both are also a manipulation and a strategic mutilation of this event and its significance for the human race.

The accounts in sura 3 and sura 19 are slightly different but for our purposes in this brief post they serve the same function.

Here is the account given in the Qur’an in sura 19, Maryam (16-22):

وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ مَرْيَمَ إِذِ انتَبَذَتْ مِنْ أَهْلِهَا مَكَانًا شَرْقِيًّا ﴿١٦فَاتَّخَذَتْ مِن دُونِهِمْ حِجَابًا فَأَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْهَا رُوحَنَا فَتَمَثَّلَ لَهَا بَشَرًا سَوِيًّا ﴿١٧ قَالَتْ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِالرَّحْمَـٰنِ مِنكَ إِن كُنتَ تَقِيًّا ﴿١٨قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَنَا رَسُولُ رَبِّكِ لِأَهَبَ لَكِ غُلَامًا زَكِيًّا ﴿١٩ قَالَتْ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ وَلَمْ أَكُ بَغِيًّا ﴿٢٠ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ قَالَ رَبُّكِ هُوَ عَلَيَّ هَيِّنٌ ۖ وَلِنَجْعَلَهُ آيَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَرَحْمَةً مِّنَّا ۚ وَكَانَ أَمْرًا مَّقْضِيًّا ﴿٢١ فَحَمَلَتْهُ فَانتَبَذَتْ بِهِ مَكَانًا قَصِيًّ

English translation by Maulana Muhammad Ali

And mention Mary in the Book.  When she drew aside from her family to an eastern place.  So she screened herself from them.  Then We sent Our spirit and it appeared to her as a well-made man.

 She said: I flee for refuge from thee to the Beneficent, if thou art one guarding against evil.

 He said I am only bearer of a message of the Lord: That I will give thee a pure boy.

 She said: How can I have a son and no mortal has yet touched me nor have I been unchaste?

 He said: So (it will be).  Thy Lord says: It is easy to Me; and that We may make him a sign to men and a mercy from Us.  And it is a matter decreed.

 Then she conceived him; and withdrew with him to a remote place.

Notice anything missing there?  Let’s take a look at Saint Luke’s (1: 26-38) account of the same event written more than half a millennium before in the Douay-Rheims Challoner translation:

 And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And the angle being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

 Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.

 And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.  Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.  And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

 And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

 And the angel answering, said to her: the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee.  And therefore also the Holy which shall  be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.  And behold they cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with here that is called barren:  because no word shall be impossible with God.

 And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.

Just looking at these two passages alone, one from the Qur’an and the other from the Gospel of Luke, one can see immediately the depth and richness of the Catholic Faith compared to the paltriness of Islam.  In Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation the depth of the human being’s relationship with God that comes to its fullness in the person of Jesus Christ is in full view while in the Qur’an things happen in a strange and nonsensical way: the spirit of Allah appearing to Mary in some eastern place as a well made man?  What is that?  But we are getting beyond my point here.

What is missing from the account in the Qur’an?  Many things, but one thing in particular: the Blessed Mother’s fiat, the most significant event in human history.  Because here it was that a choice was made.  By the Virgin Mother of God’s yes to God she reversed the choice of Adam and of Eve and made it possible for each one of us to make the same choice each day of our lives.  Her yes brought a new world into being and made all of us sons of God by adoption through her son our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Angelus prayer reminds us that the Blessed Mother’s fiat brought about the Incarnation of God in human flesh and the Redemption of mankind.  And it is a reminder to all of us that our way of participating in our own salvation and that of mankind is to issue our own fiat to the will of God each day of our lives.

This is what the Qur’an denies.  In the Qur’an the answer of the angel to the virgin’s question is simply something along the lines of “Allah can do whatever he wants.”  She neither accepts nor rejects this scenario but conceives and withdraws to a desert place.

And this is Islam’s view of the universe.  Allah is an arbitrary god, giving and taking away often for no particular reason.  Human beings must follow the law as revealed to them in the Qur’an but there is zero sense of any cooperation with the divine will.  Just as they reject the divine Nature of Jesus Christ, in fact because they do this, there is no possibility of a human being sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity because for them there is no Trinity.  For Catholics God is relationship.  For Muslims Allah is necessarily solitary and alone, all powerful, aloof and distant.  In truth Allah must be a dead god, because he has not the life of relationship in him.  Muslims hope to achieve some worldly paradise after death at the whim of Allah but can never hope to share in his life because, in the end, he has none.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!



What is Islam Part 3: Islam’s Roots in Heretical Christianity

St. John of Damascus, who lived during the age of the first great Islamic onslaught against the Catholic world, wrote in On Heresies that Muhammad “after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy.”  This was the first pronouncement from a Catholic source, the last of the Fathers of the Church no less, that Islam might not be as new (Muslim claims to be the primordial religion of mankind not withstanding) or nearly as original idea as it first seemed.  Unfortunately this was also the last of these pronouncements until Hilaire Belloc repeated it our own day just before the Second World War, and it has been dutifully ignored ever since.

So let us examine St. John Damascene’s claim.  The root and core of Islam is the denial of the Trinity which must of course be followed by a denial of the Incarnation.  But the denial of the Trinity was not new in the seventh century.  It was an ancient error by the time of Muhammad.  The heresies that plagued the Church in the age of the Roman Empire all denied the essential unity between God and man that the conjoined natures of Jesus Christ represented and which is only possible to comprehend through the Trinitarian revelations of the New Testament.  So, what does this have to do with Islam?

On the northeast corner of the inside octagonal rim of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the oldest extant Islamic building in the world is written this curious inscription from the Qur’an:

الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِنْهُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ ۖ وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ انْتَهُوا خَيْرًا لَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا اللَّهُ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ سُبْحَانَهُ أَنْ يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ

The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only a messenger of Allah and His word which He communicated to Mary and a mercy from Him.  So believe in Allah and His messengers.  And say not, Three.  Desist, it is better for you.  Allah is only one God.  Far be it from His glory to have a son (Qur’an 4: 171).

So then, they ancient charge of the Sanhedrin is leveled at the Church: Jesus is not God, there is no Incarnation; God is one so do not proclaim the Trinity to the world.  This charged migrated out from Jewish circles already by the close of the Apostolic Age.  The Gnostics and various others by the close of the first century were already echoing this line of thinking.  They would mostly say that our Lord was pure spirit, that his body was more or less and optical illusion, and of course that he did not form this link between God and man who can only be understood through the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Later, when the first flush of Gnosticism had run its course the world saw the dawn of Arianism.  Arius, in the early fourth century just following the Edict of Milan, proclaimed our Lord to be a kind of demi-god, and that there was an incarnation of sorts, but not really the Incarnation.  Basically he proclaimed that Jesus Christ was the most powerful created being in the universe, that He was almost God, but that He was not God, that He was created in time.  This doctrine would go on to be adopted by a great swathe of the political elite (including many bishops) in the Empire and later by a number of the barbarian tribes who were coming into what had been the Western Empire and cause a whole host of problems for the Church and for the Roman world.  Many today are confused when they hear or read of the Arian controversy; in our functionally Godless age men scoff at the idea of arguing over the nature of Jesus Christ.  But the problem then is the same is the problem now, though I must say that in that age the Church attacked the issue much more forcefully that it is doing today: if we deny the linking of the divine and human nature in Jesus Christ then we cannot live out the Gospel as it has been revealed to us.  How is a believer supposed to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5: 48)” if we have no link to the Father in Jesus Christ?  This has been the dagger that all heresy, coming in a multitude of guises over the ages, has aimed at the heart of the Church since the beginning.

The Dome of the Rock (taken by me August 3, 2011)

The Dome of the Rock (taken by me August 3, 2011)

Taken inside the Dome of the Rock August 3, 2011

Taken inside the Dome of the Rock August 3, 2011

So then this anti-Trinitarian line from the Qur’an is inscribed upon the oldest still standing Islamic building in the world, a monument whose construction was begun a bare six decades after Muhammad’s death.  This curious anti-Trinitarianism in what was supposedly a newly revealed text was a feature that Islam wanted to parade before the world from its earliest ages.  It features prominently throughout the Qur’an in fact.  And the Qur’an is the direct revelation from Allah to Muhammad through an angel who called himself Gabriel, or so the Muslims say.  But these anti-Trinitarian ideas were not new in the seventh century.  They were in fact quite old by that time, and they sprang not from divine but very human sources going back to the Gnostics of the late first century and even earlier to the Jewish opponents of the nascent Catholic Church, half a millennium before Muhammad was even born.

We have lost many of the writings of the anti-Trinitarian heretics who thrived in the late Roman Empire as they were anathematized by the Church and ultimately destroyed after these heresies were extinguished so there is not too much left to make a comparison with.  There are no records left of Arian liturgies, for example, though they were sung out for three centuries between the Council of Nicaea and the Merovingian rule of Gaul.  There is however a very curious echo between the very early heretical Infancy ‘Gospel’ of Thomas that is dated to the second century AD and a claim made in the Qur’an.  First from the heretical infancy narrative (http://gnosis.org/library/inftoma.htm ):

 1 This little child Jesus when he was five years old was playing at the ford of a brook: and he gathered together the waters that flowed there into pools, and made them straightway clean, and commanded them by his word alone. 2 And having made soft clay, he fashioned thereof twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things (or made them). And there were also many other little children playing with him.

3 And a certain Jew when he saw what Jesus did, playing upon the Sabbath day, departed straightway and told his father Joseph: Lo, thy child is at the brook, and he hath taken clay and fashioned twelve little birds, and hath polluted the Sabbath day. 4 And Joseph came to the place and saw: and cried out to him, saying: Wherefore doest thou these things on the Sabbath, which it is not lawful to do? But Jesus clapped his hands together and cried out to the sparrows and said to them: Go! and the sparrows took their flight and went away chirping. 5 And when the Jews saw it they were amazed, and departed and told their chief men that which they had seen Jesus do.

Now from the Qur’an:

إِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ اذْكُرْ نِعْمَتِي عَلَيْكَ وَعَلَىٰ وَالِدَتِكَ إِذْ أَيَّدْتُكَ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ تُكَلِّمُ النَّاسَ فِي الْمَهْدِ وَكَهْلًا ۖ وَإِذْ عَلَّمْتُكَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَالتَّوْرَاةَ وَالْإِنْجِيلَ ۖ وَإِذْ تَخْلُقُ مِنَ الطِّينِ كَهَيْئَةِ الطَّيْرِ بِإِذْنِي فَتَنْفُخُ فِيهَا فَتَكُونُ طَيْرًا بِإِذْنِي ۖ وَتُبْرِئُ الْأَكْمَهَ وَالْأَبْرَصَ بِإِذْنِي ۖ وَإِذْ تُخْرِجُ الْمَوْتَىٰ بِإِذْنِي ۖ وَإِذْ كَفَفْتُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ عَنْكَ إِذْ جِئْتَهُمْ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْهُمْ إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا سِحْرٌ مُبِينٌ

When Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, remember my favour to thee and to thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit; thou spokest to people in the cradle and in old age, and when I taught thee the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel, and when thou didst determine out of clay a thing like the form of a bird by My permission, then thou didst breathe into it and it became a bird by My permission; and thou didst heal the blind and the leprous by My permission; and when thou didst raise the dead by My permission; and when I withheld the Children of Israel from thee when thou camest to them with clear arguments – but those of them who disbelieved said: This is nothing but clear enchantment (Qur’an 5: 110).

A fascinating verse from the Qur’an on so many levels! First there is the odd mention of the Holy Spirit (روح القدس), odd for an anti-Trinitarian belief system such as Islam, and not unique to this verse alone.  Perhaps the angel who called himself Gabriel just could not help himself for whatever reason, but I will leave that be.  Our Lord’s miracles are placed firmly in the camp of those of the Oriental wonder-worker who has existed since time immemorial.  The Church has always taught that these miracles were an outward sign of who Jesus Christ is but in Islam Jesus Christ is reduced, as he would certainly have been in Arianism if it had ever gained a permanent foothold, to a mere messenger of God.  Another in the long line of prophets, a man who is to be revered but certainly neither Savior nor Redeemer.  Not the one who was sent by God to save mankind from its distress, and certainly not anyone who would create the link between God and man and fulfill mankind’s destiny; we who were created in the “image and likeness (Gn. 1: 26)” of God.  I have to mention here as well the sly little bit inserted by the angel who called himself Gabriel into this verse about our Lord speaking to people in his “old age”.  Jesus  Christ was crucified, died, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven during a 53 day period when he was 33 years old, not regarded as ‘old age’ even during the seventh century.  Just another of the Qur’an denials of the founding fact of the Catholic Church: that Jesus Christ really did suffer, die, get buried, rise from the dead, and ascend to the Father to make intercession for the Church until He returns as Judge of that world at the end of time.  In another section of the Qur’an (4:157) a rather vaguely worded assertion was made that Jesus was not crucified at all, that another went in his place; this is a claim that also has roots that predate the Qur’an by centuries and is in fact found in many of the Gnostic ‘gospels’ that were recovered  at Nag Hammadi in 1945.  But I am getting far afield of what I wanted to talk about: the birds.  Let’s get back to the birds.

 All of the other parts of this verse, save the bit about our Lord’s old age, could have been gleaned from the canonical Gospels.  They all record how our Lord healed both the blind and the lepers and how the Spirit was seen (though He had always been there) to have come down upon Him at his Baptism and how his Mother had conceived Him by the Holy Spirit.  But not the birds.  The ‘miracle’ of the birds reduce our Lord to a wonder-worker.  One could I suppose make the argument that our Lord came to give Life to the world and this is true, but our Lord came to breathe Life into men, not birds.  In Genesis man is the only creature into whom God breathes his Life.  The ‘miracle’ of the birds does not fit into that pattern our Lord established in the canonical Gospels.  The evidence shows that it comes from heretical Christian sources that predate the Qur’an by possibly half a millennium and was probably concocted to reduce our Lord to a nothing more than a wonder-worker.  Or who knows?  Maybe the angel who called himself Gabriel spoke this tale to others long before he spoke it to Muhammad?

From this long post I think that we can all agree that there is a mountain of evidence that many features of and ideas expressed in the Qur’an predate the life of Muhammad by a very long time.  Was St. John of Damascus correct in supposing that Muhammad had an Arian monk for a teacher?  We will probably never know.  He probably didn’t need one though that story about Muhammad’s childhood encounter with a monk outside of Damascus that was recounted in the last post does raise an eyebrow.  In any case. the Damascene saint did recognize heretical Christianity when he saw it and he placed Islam firmly in that camp.

So after all that let us just say:

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto!  Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

And pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

November 24, 2013: Homage to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of all the world, of all the nations and tribes, and of all men.  Let us pray today especially that all mankind may one day stand before his throne and with a single mighty voice sing praise to his holy and glorious Name.  What follows is the great hymn of praise to the primacy of Jesus Christ from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Col. i, 12-20) that is recited every Wednesday evening in the Liturgy of the Hours and is the second reading in today’s Mass for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe:

Gratias agentes Deo Patri, qui dignos nos fecit in partem sortis sanctorum in lumine: qui eripuit nos de ptestate tenebrarum, et transtulit in regnum filii dilectionis suae, in quo habemus redemptionem per sangiunem ejus, remissionem peccatorum: qui est imago Dei invisibilis, primogenitus omnis creaturae: quoniam in ipso condita sunt universa in caelis, et in terra, visibilia, et invisibilia, sive throni, sive dominationes, sive principatus, sive potestates: omnia per ipsum et in ipso creata sunt: et ipse est ante omnes, et omnia in ipso constant.  Et ipse est caput corporis Ecclesiae, qui est principium, primogenitus ex mortuis: ut sit in omnibus ipse primatum tenens: quia in ipso complacuit, omnem plenitudinem inhabitare: et per eum reconciliare omnia in ipsum, pacificans per sanguinem crucis eius, sive quae in terris, sive quae in caelis sunt.

Here is the English translation from the Liturgy of the Hours that comes from the New American Bible 1970 that leaves out the bit about the thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers:

“Let us give thanks to the Father for having made you worthy to share the lot of the saints in light.  He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  Through him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.  He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creatures.  In him everything in heaven and on earth was created, things visible and invisible.  Al were created through him; all were created for him.  He is before all else that is.  In him everything continues in being.  It is he who is head of the body, the Church!  he who is the beginning, the first-born of the dead, so that primacy may be his in everything.  It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross.”

Jesus Christ is King, not just of us but of all.  Let us pray that all mankind be united under Him.  Pray the Rosary.  Monday for the See of Constantinople, Tuesday for the See of Antioch, Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, Thursday for the See of Alexandria, Friday for the See of Carthage: for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  Jesus Christ shed his Blood for them too and He is King of us all.

The Feast of the dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul-November 18

Today, November 18, is the Feast Day in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church of the dedication of the basilicas of the two illustrious patrons of the Church of Rome:  Saints Peter and Paul.  Two men who came out of the East (from lands now dominated by Islam), one a brilliant scholar and the other a humble fishermen whom Our Lord took from his boat on the Lake of Galilee and brought him to Rome to make him Prince of the Church.  These two men, by the power of the Holy Spirit the resided within them, utterly transformed the world in a way that men have found unfathomable ever since.  Sancti apostoli Petre et Paule, ora pro nobis!


St. Peter's Basilica-Rome

St. Peter’s Basilica-Rome (taken by me April 24, 2013)


The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary

Once again my own personal thoughts, interspersed with those of others and doubtless not originating with me in any case, borne of time spent meditating on the Luminous Mysteries.  If I repeat anything that anyone else has written elsewhere without giving them due credit then I beg forgiveness as it is not intentional.

The Luminous Mysteries begin with the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River.  John the Baptist had been going throughout the Jordan river valley preaching a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, the vox clamantis in deserto; Dirigite viam Domini!  Just as the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed eight centuries before: here was this man dressed in rough clothes shouting back into the ‘civilized’ world from the wild lands that something new was coming, something wholly unexpected, and that they had better prepare themselves.  Then one day Jesus walks up to him beside the Jordan river and he cries out: Ecce agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccatum mundi.  This is a cry echoed down to this day by the priest celebrating Mass when he holds up the consecrated Host before the faithful and calls out: Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sin of the world.  Our Lord is then baptized by John in the Jordan, plunged down underneath the waters then raised up anew into the air to breathe.  Our Lord’s Baptism is both a prefiguring of the future and look back into the past.  There is much commentary from the Fathers of the Church about how this event prefigures the death of Our Lord and his laying in the tomb only to be raised back up on the third day.  Also this is linked to the Israelites crossing the Red Sea during the Exodus.  Once He is back on dry land the Holy Spirit descends like a dove down upon Him and the voice of the Father rings out: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui.

The Wedding at Cana is Our Lord’s first public miracle.  The details are thus: Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are attending a wedding at Cana in Galilee when the guests’ supply of wine runs out.  Mary sees this and runs to her son to ask Him to help.  He asks what concern it is of theirs since it is not yet his hour and she tells the servants to do whatever He tells them.  Jesus tells them to fill up six giant cisterns used for the extensive and elaborate Jewish ceremonial washing of the day with water, and to take a cup of that water to the chief steward.  The chief steward takes a drink and, to paraphrase St. John, discovers that this stuff is the best wine he has ever tasted and goes on to scold the (probably completely confused and perplexed) host because he did not serve it sooner.  What to make of this?  How do we think of this as we meditate?  One way is to use this is as an excellent meditation on the relationship between Our Lord and his Mother: those who go through her to find Him will not fail.  Another is to take a cue from Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration where he points out that this is a prefiguring of how Our Lord would cleanse the world with his own Blood.  The fact that the ineffectual water in these ceremonial washing cisterns would be replaced by the wine of the Mass, the Blood of the New and everlasting Covenant, is inescapable here I think.

Quoniam implementum est tempus, et appropinquavit regnum Dei: poenitemini, et credite Evangelio.  “The time is accomplished, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel. (Mk. 1: 15)”  The first public proclamation of his mission from the lips of Our Lord Himself.  The public birth of the new age and the new world.  The Old Law has now been fulfilled and the New is being born.  The Author of Life is in our midst from this moment until the end of time.  I like to meditate for the Mystery of the Proclamation of the Kingdom on the relationship of Jesus Christ’s above cited proclamation in Mark to the Hail Mary itself.  Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum; Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.  The Angel’s announcement to Mary in the grotto of the Annunciation announced that the time had now been fulfilled and accomplished: the birth of the new world was at hand.  Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui Iesus; Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.  Through the acquiescence of Mary Jesus was born in the world and in Him and through the choice of his Mother the kingdom of God has come to us.  Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc et in hora mortis nostrae; Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Pray for us O Holy Mother of God that we repent and believe in the Gospel, and that we enter the kingdom of God.

The Transfiguration is Jesus revelation of his divinity to his apostles.  Peter, James, and John climb the mountain, following Him up to the high peak and are tired.  After a deep sleep they awaken to see Our Lord clothed with the sun and two men, who would have been to their minds the two greatest human beings ever to walk the earth, Moses and Elijah at his feet.  This reveals to them the superiority of this man over all other men who have ever lived.  An oft expressed point that I have heard in homilies on this subject is that, seeing this incredible scene, the three apostles want to stay.  They don’t want to go back down the mountains; they want to stay there forever and wait on the three.  This is why Peter wants to erect three tents.  The will of God is of course something else.  The voice of the Father comes down from the heavens, echoing his words at the Lord’s Baptism, and tells them to listen to his Son.  A message is this: God will take whom He wills in this world up to the mountaintop and reveal Himself to them but we do not stay there.  We must listen to Our Lord and follow Him down from the mountain on his journey to Jerusalem and take up the Cross.

The Institution of the Most Holy Eucharist.  The beginning of the Mass.  In the Gospel of Luke Our Lord tells his apostles at the Last Supper that He had greatly desired to eat that meal with them before He suffered.  When we think of Him not as a thirty year old carpenter from Nazareth but as the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity this statement take on a whole new significance.  This was the Word who had created the world.  He was there at the beginning; He was there when Adam and Eve fell from grace; He was there when Cain murdered his brother Abel; He who warned Noah of the Flood; it was He who called Abram from his father’s house in Haran and brought him to the land of Canaan promising to multiply his offspring like the sands of the seashore; it was He spoke to Moses from the burning bush; He who guided the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land; He who spoke through the prophets of Israel.  Now here He was, and here He is in every Mass, offering Himself for the forgiveness of sins to set right what once went wrong.  The Institution of the Most Holy Eucharist truly fulfills the exclamation of John the Baptist that begins the Luminous Mysteries: Ecce agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccatum mundi.

The Luminous Mysteries were first proposed by Blessed John Paul II in his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.  There are those who are skeptical of these Mysteries because of their lack of antiquity but this is the way of the Rosary.  The Rosary is a living devotion.  It was first given to St. Dominic by the Blessed Mother during the early 13th century and the details of its early history, save that there was a combination of meditation on the mysteries of our salvation and the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin (The Angelical Salutation), is quite murky.  It was not until 1569, some 350 years later, that Pope St. Pius V finalized the 15 ‘traditional’ Mysteries.  The Luminous Mysteries, when combined with the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries are a completion of the picture of the life of Christ and doubtless bring one closer to Him.

Offer the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, for its liberty and its salvation and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome, and for the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

The See of Jerusalem

Si oblitus fuero tui, Ierusalem, oblivioni detur dextera mea.  Jerusalem is where it all began.  The site of Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection and Ascension.  The site of the Institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, the Mass, in the Upper Room.  The site of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the birth of the Church.  These events that fundamentally and forever changed the course of human history all happened here.  Previously, through a long, glorious, and troubled history of a thousand years, the city had been the site of the Jewish cult of worship of the Most High on the Temple Mount.  That cult was perfected through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and transferred to the Catholic Church with the institution of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and is now performed throughout the world.


The site of the birth of the New and Eternal Covenant viewed from the site of the cult of the Old Covenant. (My photo taken Aug. 3, 2011)

The Church was born in Jerusalem but has never had it easy in the city of its birth.  Its first martyrdom, that of Stephen, was suffered in Jerusalem only a few years after Our Lord’s Ascension.  The first of the Ecumenical Councils was held in Jerusalem to decide whether or not the Mosaic Law was obligatory for Christians.  For the first four decades of the Church’s existence, as she spread throughout the Mediterranean through the outpouring of the Spirit and the tireless work of the Apostles, she was constantly embroiled in conflict with the Jewish authorities in the city.  Then in 66 AD the Jews revolted against their Roman overlords provoking a long and brutal war which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman general and future emperor Titus in the year 70.

Following the destruction of the city the church rapidly diminished in both numbers and importance.  The primacy of Rome was becoming firmly established following the martyrdom of St. Peter on the Vatican Hill just before the Jewish revolt.  Following his defeat of the second Jewish revolt in 135 Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as the pagan settlement Aelia Capitolina.  The small number of believers who remained went thoroughly underground at this point.  They seemed to have retained a thorough memory of the sites associated Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection since archaeological evidence has been discovered of foreign and Latin speaking pilgrims who visited the site now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher between the founding of Aelia Capitolina and the building of the basilica.

After the Edict of Milan brought the Church out from underground in the Roman Empire the Emperor Constantine sent his mother St. Helena to Palestine to discover and commemorate the sites associated with the events of the life of Jesus Christ.  Jerusalem would be a Christian city for the next three centuries.  Basilicas and monasteries would arise to give memorial to the life of Our Lord and the apostles.  Pilgrims flocked to the city from throughout the Empire even after the fall of the Western emperors.  Jerusalem was a part of the Pentarchy along with Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria that were the great and most influential Sees of the Church and before the rise of Islam  The city was sacked and briefly occupied by the Persians during the early part of the seventh century, but then regained by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius.  The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14 celebrates in part the return of the relic of the True Cross, stolen by the Persians, to the city in the year 629.

The return of the Byzantines was to be short-lived however.  Within a decade Islam had stormed out of the Arabian desert and Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia and the Muslims took the city of Jerusalem in 637.  The Muslims stayed where the Persians had not, and the flow of Christian pilgrims flowed to a trickle.  The conquests of Islam along the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean cast a veil between Rome and the holy city and there was little interaction between the two for the next half millennium.  The emperors in Constantinople tried during that time, with varying degrees of success, to protect the holy sites and the pilgrim route to Jerusalem.  The church once again diminished owing to the slow wearing away of the Faith and the general fall into apostasy of those who had been believers in all of the lands of the Levant now ruled by Muslims.

Then came the launch of the First Crusade in the year 1095.  Responding to a plea for help and the defense of Constantinople against the Turks from the Emperor Alexius Comnenus Pope Urban II called on the leaders of western Europe who sent forth a great army of men.  Alarmed by the presence of this large (much larger than he had wanted) foreign army within his borders he sent them south away from Constantinople and to the amazement of everyone, except possibly themselves, they conquered first Antioch in 1098 and then Jerusalem in the summer of 1099.  The brief Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was then established which lasted less than a century before it fell to Salah ad-Din in 1187.

Jerusalem then floundered for the next seven centuries, once again cut off from Rome and from Christendom.  Local Christians remained but the city’s church fell into decay.  The Franciscans were granted custody of the holy sites for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church by virtue of St. Francis of Assisi’ positive encounter with the Egyptian Sultan Malik al-Kamil not long after the Muslims reclaimed the city, a custody which endures to this day.  The Ottoman Empire conquered Jerusalem during the early 16th century and held it for the next four centuries.

The city had shrunk down to a population of 60,000 by the onset of the First World War.  The British Army took Jerusalem on December 8, 1917 and opened a new era in the city’s history.  Christian pilgrims flocked back to the city for the first time since the Crusades, and new basilicas and monasteries were once again built where the ancient ones had fallen into ruin to commemorate the holy places but the British hold was short lived.  The increase in Jewish immigration as a result of the Zionist ideology and the resulting conflict with the local Arabs made the situation untenable for the British after the carnage of the Second World War.  They then left Palestine to the warring Jews and Arabs in 1948.  The city was then divided into west and east between the new State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  The Israeli army conquered the eastern half of the city in 1967 and reunited it under Jewish control.  The city of Jerusalem, owing to the enthusiasm of the Zionists for their ancient capital, is now more developed and a greater metropolis than it has ever been in its history but its Christian population is rapidly shrinking.  The Christian population are mostly Arab Palestinians who are hostile to the Jewish masters of the city and therefore suffer from a want of favor among the local governing authorities and being caught somewhat in the middle of an increasingly fanatical Muslim-Jewish religious conflict.

There are several Patriarchs of Jerusalem at present to serve the diminishing Christian population and protect the holy sites but they find themselves often in conflict with one another due to ancient theological and current political conflicts.  The Armenians and the Greek Orthodox have a very strong presence in the holy city due to their historical proximity to the place.  The Latin Patriarchate was lost after the failure of the Crusades but reinstated in 1847.  The current Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is Fouad Twal appointed in 2008.

Do not forget Jerusalem.  Offer the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, for its liberty and its salvation and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  Pray that the birthplace of the Church will once again become a pillar of the Church.