December 10, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Advent celebrates Mary, mother of our Savior

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“O Mary, ever Virgin, rejoice, you who were worthy to bear Christ, the Creator of heaven and Earth; for from your womb you brought forth the Savior of the world, alleluia.” (Marian Antiphon, translated from the Latin by James Monti)

Today, Dec. 10, we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Loreto. This is a minor Marian feast—especially in light of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which we observed on Dec. 8, and the popular feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, normally celebrated on Dec. 12 except when it falls on a Sunday as it does this year on the Third Sunday of Advent.

The legend surrounding Our Lady of Loreto relates the story of angels who miraculously preserved the house in Nazareth where Mary first responded “yes” to the Archangel Gabriel and agreed to become the mother of our Savior. As the story goes, the house was threatened with destruction at the time of the crusades, and so the angels transported it to the Italian city of Loreto on Dec. 10, 1294, where it is now enshrined in a basilica.

Historians believe that this legend is based on some truth. Documents in the Vatican archive reveal that in the 13th century a noble Byzantine family, the Angeli family, rescued “materials” from “Our Lady’s House” in Nazareth from Muslim invaders and then had them transported to Italy for the building of a shrine in the town of Loreto. This family, whose name means “the angels,” were trying to preserve what they believed to be Mary’s house. Their efforts became the source of the legend of Loreto.

Regardless of its history, the Holy House of Loreto remains, in the words of St. John Paul II, “the foremost shrine of international import dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.” Many saints, including St. Francis de Sales, St. Louis de Montfort and St. Charles Borromeo, considered this shrine to be a fitting memorial to Mary’s “fiat” and the joyful mystery of the Annunciation.

Advent celebrates Mary in her many diverse roles before, during and after our Lord’s incarnation, death and resurrection. Mary’s “yes” to God’s will makes her the mother of our Savior. Her presence at the foot of the Cross allows Jesus to entrust her to us as our mother. Her prayerful participation in the formation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church at Pentecost makes Mary the first missionary disciple, the model for all of us who seek to follow in her Son’s footsteps.

Whether we address her as the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Loreto, or any of the hundreds of titles lovingly given to the Blessed Virgin Mary during the past 2,000 years, we acknowledge that this simple woman who occupied a humble home in a tiny village in an obscure region of the world was someone extraordinary. She is exalted now because of her lowliness and humility. She is hailed as Queen of the Universe now, and we acclaim her as Mother of our Redeemer, because she gave herself completely to the child entrusted to her by God in the humblest of circumstances.

During this special time of year, we acknowledge the depth of longing that we have for the return of Christ our Savior. For many, the 20-plus months of pandemic have taken a serious toll, and we experience intensely the desire for comfort, healing and hope. We turn to our Blessed Mother Mary with confidence in her ability to help and inspire us, especially in moments of doubt and desperation.

The humble dwelling that has come to be known as “the Holy House of Loreto” is a symbol of the safe place that we seek during uncertain times like these. Here, Mary of Nazareth lived quietly but securely. Here she prayed, worked and meditated on the word of God that communicated God’s love for his chosen people. Here it was that Mary accepted her destiny with courage, faithfulness and profound love.

As we move into the final weeks of the Advent season—in this special time of preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops—let’s ask Mary to walk with us. Through her intercession, may we be ready to encounter Jesus in word, sacrament and attentiveness to the hopes and dreams of others. May our loving mother, Our Lady of Loreto, help us to discern God’s will for each of us and for our Church.

May our Advent prayers now resound with hope-filled expectation, in the words of St. Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. … Indeed, the Lord is near!” (Phil 4:4-5). †

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