Mary and October

I have always loved the month of October. Growing up in Michigan, the October autumn days were often spectacular with bursts of fall foliage that Ohio (as glorious as the falls can be here) just seem to lack. The chillier days there were always perfect for trips to the cider mill with hot slightly greasy donuts and warmed cider to take away the chill. Michigan cider mills seemed to perfect the donut that was perfect for dunking. To this day I have fond memories of jumping in piles of leaves and of the smell of burning them in the backyard (still legal back then). Perhaps best of all was the sound of the crunch of those fallen leaves underfoot. To this day I am like a big kid when I go out to walk in the woods, deliberately going out of my way to step on them even if they are not directly in my path just so I can delight in that crunch.

But October brings more than just childhood memories of the glories of nature and enjoyable fall activities. I have grown to love the month because it gives me an excuse to ponder the great gift the Church gives us in devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. October has traditionally been the month dedicated to one of the most important prayers of the Church, the Holy Rosary prayed in her honor. That’s the prayer where we dig deep into the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ her Son, through her eyes, so to speak. Part of the reason for that is that the month includes the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7th. (Formerly, it was called Our Lady of Victory). That date was chosen because of the historical event of the Battle of Lepanto in the 16th century, when the Ottoman Turks almost overran Christendom until Pope St. Pius V had all of the Christian armies and faithful pray for the protection of Our Lady through the same Rosary. She interceded in a marvelous way, saving Christian Europe from what seemed an unstoppable threat and a potentially disastrous suppression of the faith.

But it is not just the power of Mary’s intercession that we contemplate this month. Just as with our mothers on earth, we don’t stay focused merely on what we can ask from her. We also seek to honor her, as the greatest of God’s creatures. When Mary was assumed into Heaven, she became Queen of Heaven and Earth, so that one of her titles is Queen of the Angels. That is something worth pondering. The angels are created by God with minds far more powerful than any human being. And yet, Mary is the Queen of all creation, including these astonishing beings. As the Scriptures tell us (Hebrews 2:5 ff. esp. v. 16), it was not as an angel that God descended to earth – but as a man, born of Mary’s womb, taking on her human flesh.

The French painter Bougereau created a magnificent painting of Our Lady under her title of Queen of the Angels (above). In it, the Blessed Virgin is shrouded in a deep velvety midnight blue mantle. The Christ-child she holds out for adoration is practically glowing with light. Even though His beautiful infant hands look very lifelike, if you look closely, you can see that the Divine Child’s right hand is slightly folded in the traditional depiction of blessing, with the middle and index finger slightly raised together and the thumb separated. Clearly, Mary is holding out Jesus so He can bless all mankind.

Meanwhile, the angels gaze in absolutely rapt attention at the Christ-child she holds out, marveling at the beauty of the Lord and the fact that the Word was made flesh. They are literally encircling Him, so that all eyes are turned to Christ.

Two of the angels at the bottom of the circle, at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary, gaze up at Him while they swing beautiful golden censers toward Him (see Revelation 8; also, the crown of stars around her head hints at Revelation 12). That’s a sign of worship and adoration, but also of sacrifice – hinting at the saving sacrifice that this Infant, Word of God, would enact as He grew to manhood and offered up His life for all mankind on the Cross.

All of the lines of the painting draw us inexorably inward to gaze at the wonder of Christ, the God-made-man, flooded with light, as the Blessed Virgin Mary demurely and humbly casts her eyes down, so that we are looking not at her, but rather at her Son.

That magnificent painting really says it all. This artwork, the praying of the Rosary, and the Holy Mass all point in the same direction: pulling us in like so much irresistible spiritual gravity into what the Lord holds out to those who are faithful to Him: the eternal contemplation of the goodness of Jesus the Lamb of God and communion with God the Father in the Holy Spirit in Heaven.

As we devoutly attend Mass this month and pray the Rosary, let’s ask Our Lady to intercede for us so that we never lose sight of that goal, of that Heavenly Communion with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all of the angels and saints.

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