Happy 9th Day of Christmas!


Noël Hallé, The Holy Family, shamelessly pinched from here. 

Pope Francis had a lovely homily for yesterday's feast of the Mary, Mother of God. In one portion he explains the origins of the feast in the Council of Ephesus' proclamation of Mary as theotokos -- Mother of God: meaning not that she is author of Christ's divine nature or divine herself, but simply that she is mother of the whole person of Christ. As is usually the case, the Church defines certain things about Mary so as to defend what she believes about Christ.

What called my attention, however, was this anecdote regarding that Council: 

It is said that the residents of Ephesus used to gather at the gates of the basilica where the bishops were meeting and shout, “Mother of God!”.  The faithful, by asking them to officially define this title of Our Lady, showed that they acknowledged her divine motherhood.  Theirs was the spontaneous and sincere reaction of children who know their Mother well, for they love her with immense tenderness.  But it is more: it is the sensus fidei of the holy People of God which, in its unity, never errs.

I love that story for a couple or three reasons.  First because it reverses an injustice in the scriptures. In Acts 19, St. Paul is greeted in Ephesus by pagan protesters shouting, "Great is Diana!" I love the idea that -- much as St. Peter gets to undo his betrayal of Christ with a three-fold declaration of his love at the close of the Gospels-- the Ephesians also got a "do-over" of sorts, a couple of centuries late, albeit. We say God is the author of history and I enjoy the heck out of his poetic reversals.

Some years ago Mr. W. read a book on the liturgy that was too heavy going for me and he himself doesn't recall which it was since he read a lot on that topic for a while, but I always loved a description he read me of the faithful in the Middle Ages wanting to see Christ in the Eucharist at the elevation during Mass. If they couldn't see, they didn't scruple to call out, "Higher, Fr. John, Higher!"  Mr. W. thinks the discussion was about superstition -- you don't have to literally see the host to make an act of faith and receive grace at that moment-- but I like the carnality of it (if I'm supposed to see, let me), and I think that image serves as a nice counterweight to a particular strain of liturgical piety which expects absolute (and I would say unreasonable) silence and reverence from the congregation. Congregations tend to be too casual and irreverent today -- but there is a way of understanding liturgical reverence that is almost (ironically) anti-Incarnational, it seems to me. It's hyper-aware of the presence of angels and sort of annoyed by the presence of men! The Pope's anecdote about Ephesus is part of a collection of such anecdotes I'm sort of swirling around in my mind as I think about the Incarnation, therefore. 

I have less to say about the sensus fidei the Pope calls attention to at the close of the passage above, but that too is something I am thinking about -- particularly because I'm a lay delegate to the Archdiocese of Washington's first-ever local Synod, which has been a fascinating experience -- and one that makes me more confident in the sensus fidei, since I have seen over the course of the past year that no matter how many weird ideas, heresies and political notions people express, still the body of the faithful "gets" the Faith. Possibly inarticulately, but they do. As we've sifted through more than 15,000 responses about the future of the Archdiocese, the preponderance of people in every parish have very wholesome desires and a profound hunger to be fed: better liturgy, better catechesis, more challenging (but shorter) homilies, deeper outreach to the neglected....   I notice that the Pope puts great stock in the sensus fidei -- he calls attention quite often to the Japanese laity who preserved the faith intact for 100 years in the absence of clergy, and to popular piety, and to the wisdom of simple people.  When he invokes simple people though, he's not just being sentimental or folksy, he is appealing to this sensus fidei  -- that Magisterium which is exercised by the entire People of God. I think that among other things holds a great key for understanding his recent Apostolic Exhortation and other supposedly-controversial things he's said. We have a terribly clericalized understanding of "Church," so when the Pope says the Church shouldn't lead with abortion and gay marriage, we think he means bishops shouldn't defend those causes. Wrong! He means Christians in their communities -- the entire people of God-- need to be gentle, and to welcome sinners into the place where they can find medicine -- and that evangelization is not the task of bishops or of the Pope solely or predominately. It's the task of whichever Christians are present in any given milieu.