Is 11:1 – 10, Eph 2: 13 – 22, Matt 2:13-23
By Most Rev. Luka Sylvester Gopep
People out of ignorance accused the Catholics of idolatry in their honor of Mary. I don’t know what people call ‘idolatory’. But for me, the celebration and honour of a saint like Mary, acclaimed by both God and man as holy, can never mean ‘idolatory’. If ‘Ave Maria’ were not in the Bible, and suppose the Angel did not honour Mary in the Bible, I would have thougt of leaving the Catholic Church. If I am not convinced that all the honour Catholics give to Mary go directly to Jesus raised to power 2, I would have left the Roman Catholic Church by now. So, please permit me to talk about Mary as we celebrate the feast of the Independence of Nigeria. I want to say a little about why the Universal Catholic Church Liturgy celebrates with Mary on every New Year and why the Nigerian Church follows suite to celebrate with her on every 1st day of October which is Nigeria’s Independence day.
I counted a total of 12 liturgical feasts of Mary in just 1 liturgical year:
1. Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God- 1st January.
2. Our lady, Mother of Africa – 30th April.
3. Our lady of Fatima -13th May.
4. Immaculate Heart of Mary -13th June.
5. Our lady of Mount Carmel – 16th July.
6. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 15th August.
7. Queenship of Mary – 22nd August.
8. Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary -8th September.
9. Our Lady of Sorrows-15th September. 10. Our lady, Queen and patroness of Nigeria – 1st October. 11. Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 21st November. 12. Immaculate Conception – 8th December.
Why does the Church give all these attention to Mary? The reason is simple; the more we understand Jesus as King of kings, the more we see His mother as Queen of queens. Permit me just to highlight briefly what Angel Gabriel, the leader of the heavenly crew of journalists – members of the fourth estate of the realm, said about Mary. Gabriel announced that Mary’s son would receive the throne of David and rule for ever, Lk 1:26-34. As recorded in October 1’s gospel, that angel came on duty over six times to both Mary and Joseph just to protect the Son of God, Lord of lords and King of kings, Matt 2:13-23, Lk 1:26-46.
There is a latent emphasis on a ‘Virgin bethrothed to an old man named Joseph and the Virgin’s name was Mary’. The Old Testament prophesy reads: ‘A Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and His name shall be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace’, Is 7:15, 9:6. At the visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary for the first time in history ‘Mother of My Lord’, Lk 1:42. As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus; Her Queenship is a share in Jesus’ Kingship because right from the Old Testament, the mother of the King had great influence in court as Queen mother. Mary was preserved from the original sin because of Jesus. She was full of grace because of Jesus “Hail Mary full of grace the lord is with you.” She was taken body and soul to heaven because of Jesus.
Refusing to acknowledge Mary is refusing to acknowledge Jesus. Refusing honour to Mary is refusing worship to Jesus ironically. It baffles me that Muslims have place for Mary in their holy book and yet Christians out of ignorance have no place for her. I might even say the Muslims honour Mary more for a whole book is dedicated to her in their holy book. Anyway there is nothing ignorance cannot do, do not crucify those who refuse her honour due to ignorance, if you don’t know, you don’t know. Those of you who know be patients with those who don’t know and teach them. In the fourth century (take note that this happened after the collation/canonization of the holy scriptures in the second and third centuries), St Ephraim first called her ‘Lady’ and ‘Queen’. Later Church Fathers and Doctors continued to use the title as can be seen from Marian hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries, example, ‘Hail, Holy Queen’, ‘Hail, Queen of Heaven’, etc.
The mysteries of the holy rosary came out clear during the time of St. Dominic at the battle of Lepato around the 16th century followed by protestant revolts and all what not. I am only interested in how the Universal Church saw Mary long before the political and doctrinal quarrels that tore us apart. She was unilaterally acclaimed as Queen and Mother of the Church. Most of the Marian celebrations we have today are only but recent emphasis of old realities. For example, the fact that Pope Pius XI in 1931 established the Solemnity of Mary as Mother of God is not new to the Church. The ‘theotokos’ argument was concluded long ago after the Nestorian heresy of the fifth century. The origin of the scapular devotion by the Order of the Discalced Camelites was a 13th century event under Pope Eugene IV who established the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The case of Our Lady of Fatima came as a result of Our Lady’s clear interventions during the first World War in 1917.
Immaculate Conception celebration was promulgated in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, etc. Yet these were old theological realities accepted far back by the fathers and embedded in the same Church traditions that produced the scriptures long before the protestant revolutions that had little or nothing to do with Mariology. As we celebrate our 61st Independence anniversary as a country. let us celebrate in faith 3 areas of independence even if we are yet to see them manifest in Nigeria:
1. Religious independence: Freedom from the slavery of idolatory and false belief. Most importantly, let our faith (old or new) not continue to enslave us. Let us have an open ear to other people’s religious viewpoints. You are considered to be free religiously when you accept and respect other’s religious view points.
2. Economic independence: Freedom from Western economic enslavements, excessive dependence on oil wealth, freedom from undue annexation of the Country’s wealth by a few privileged tribe or political class, freedom from the menace of poverty as a result of the massive unemployment of our Youths, etc.
3. Moral independence; Freedom to do good and fight corruption at all pedestals of the society; civil and ecclesiastical. May Mary, the Mother of Africa and the Queen and Patroness of Nigeria pray for us to become truly independent! On this day we call on our politicians to be emollient like Mary. Mary knew she was only handmade of the Lord an instrument to bring into the world not just her saviour but the saviour of the entire world. Those in positions of authority should realize their call is that of service to the people.
When they hold power it should not be for their own sake but for the sake of others. Politicians should not be interested in preserving power for themselves, nor should they be interested in only appealing to and honouring the desires of the elite. Self-serving politicians used government against it proper end. Politicians with that tendency should be removed. In democratic society, it is important to make sure no one is disenfranchised; no one is unjustly prevented from participating in elections. Everyone must be honoured and respected, everyone must have a voice and be heard. This is especially true with those in the margins of the society, such as those who historically have suffered from the various unjust biases in the society.
True freedom is had only when those who have been abused by the society are lifted up with proper reparations for what they have suffered. Democracy required the active participation of all in the society. The life of a democracy could not be productive, without the active responsible and generous involvement of everyone, albeit in a diversity complementarity, forms, levels ,task and responsibilities. True freedom is found with the promotion of the common good. It is amazing how many who talk about freedom means only their freedom. They act as if freedom is a zero sum game so that if they are to be free, others must be made unfree through oppression. This is why we find various words being subverted by them so that are used to indicate the opposite of what they were intended, Pope Francis decried: “Nowadays what do certain words like democracy, freedom, justice or unity really means? They have been bent and shaped to as tools for domination, as meaningless tags that can be used to justify any actions. I challenge our politicians to tell us, are we actually in democracy? Are we really free? Free from what? I refused to say Happy Independent. Shalom!