Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Friday, December 12, 2003

More on Titles of Mary and Poetic Expressions

(I was going to update the synecdoche post below, but why?)

One big chunk of the poetic expressions used for Mary refer to her position as Theotokos. If you believe she carried God within her, one can justly call her "Ark of the Covenant" (because she bore the ultimate evidence of God's covenant with us, and not part of God's word, but the Word itself) or "Temple". Like Aragorn's mother, she carried Hope within her. (Well, okay, not exactly like. Aragorn's mother was awfully depressed, and Aragorn's obviously not very Christy. It's a joke, folks.) Since Christ is the hope of all, Mary is literally the "source of our hope". Same thing with "cause of our joy", "seat of wisdom", and "gate of Heaven". This is pretty straightforward on the poetic expression scale, folks.

(Considering that an Irish or SCA poet could call any king a descendant of any other king who was ahead of them on the throne chronologically. SCA poets can even call someone an heir of themselves, thanks to the fact that SCA monarchs win their crowns in tournament combat, and hence often come to the throne after a few years' time. Anyway, back to the point.)

It's a pretty earthy way to talk about Mary, of course. But then, the Incarnation of God is even earthier. If you want to understand Jesus, you have to understand to your bones that He is truly God and truly man. What better way than to contemplate Him with His Mother? He came to us as a baby. The Power that made the cosmos needed His diaper changed, and she did it. God could allow Himself to be touched not only by nice things like bread and the sky, but by wastes, and all the other icky stuff Gnostics hate to think about being part of them. God was not too good for the material world He had made, even though it was fallen. God was not too fastidious to give Himself a human mother (and fosterfather!), or to love the family He sent Himself to.

Other titles of Mary refer to her as a queen. Well, she's the mother of the King of the Universe, to give God an old Jewish title. So presumably, she's given the place of a queen mother in Heaven. Parts of Revelation hint at this: a woman clothed in the Sun, standing on the Moon, and crowned with stars, gives birth to the enemy of the Dragon. So the Church celebrates her with readings like "the queen stands at his right hand, arrayed in gold". (Why not? Shouldn't we be excited by God giving a human such honor? Isn't it a hint that all his people in Heaven will be given some very interesting jobs to do?) Anyway, if Mary is "queen of Heaven" (thus kinda symbolically trampling on the old moon goddess crud that dogged Israel, the ancient world, and many today), then she's obviously also "queen of angels", "queen of all saints", and so forth. But these titles also usually have some connection to or pun on her many roles during her human life. For example, "angel" means "messenger". Mary brought the message of Jesus' coming to Elizabeth. If you take Jesus as a "message", Mary brought Him to all of us. So Mary is the most blessed of messengers -- the Queen of Angels. She was the first person to witness to Him, thus she is "queen of martyrs", for "martyr" means "witness". And so forth.

Some titles of Mary are just there because people like them. Many are swiped from the Song of Songs, in which the lovers can be taken as an analogy for God and His people. But of course Mary is part of His people, and a rather specially favored one. As she's the only person who's had a kid by God, surely a few erotic metaphors can be used for Mary! So, she is the "tower of ivory", the "enclosed garden" and so forth. Some talk about her as a herald of God: "morning star" (which is also an "in your face" to Lucifer, who legendarily gave up the whole "morning star" gig). Some come from poetry combined with Biblical reference, like "mystical rose", which comes from the whole "rose of Sharon" thing combined with the rose as a symbol of love or caritas. Some just pile on the honors: "Mother most amiable" (ie, lovable), "Virgin most renowned".

Finally, Mary has many titles based on the good experience the Church has had with asking her to pray for us. (Obviously if you don't believe in the communion of the saints, this is going to weird you out. But why? Weren't we promised that nothing, not death nor life nor anything else, could separate us from God? And if we are all part of the Body of Christ, surely we can ask for the prayers of our fellow Members in Heaven as well as those on Earth?) Mary, like any Jewish mother, is very interested in her son's associates. If, like John, we have been made her children (and hey, even if we weren't, we're _part_ of her Child!), we can expect her to be more concerned with us still. (So she's called "Mother of the Church".) She is highly favored by God; He listens to her, as we saw at Cana. (Again, this shows us the honor God means to give His people in Heaven.) So we give her names like "comforter of the afflicted", "help of Christians", and "Mother of good counsel".

With all this concern, it's not surprising to the normal Catholic that Mary has been known to occasionally drop in on people. This used to be very common for mystics; but there are also grand appearances which become famous and have churches built in their memory. Today's feast of "Our Lady of Guadalupe" commemmorates one such event. However, any place can celebrate "Our Lady" as its queen. "Our Lady of X-town" used to be a very common sort of title. Furthermore, such titles may describe a certain way that Mary is shown in a famous artwork -- for example, "Our Lady of Czestochowa" refers to the "Black Madonna" icon of Mary displayed in that town.

So there actually is a rationale behind the titles Catholics use for Mary. You may think they're too much, but they aren't just some wild goddess-worship thing. And believe me, if you think there are big names for Mary, wait till you see all the titles we have for Jesus!


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