2012-03-14 Vatican RadioPope Benedict XVI began a new cycle of catechesis on the Christian school of prayer this Wednesday during his general audience. Following on from his series on Christ’s prayer the Holy Father turned to the “first book on Church history” the Acts of the Apostles and in particular the person who was there at the beginning of salvation history and of the community of believers, Mary: Listen to Emer McCarthy's report:
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis:
Dear brothers and sisters,
With today’s catechesis I would like to begin to speak about prayer in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul. St. Luke, as we know, has given us one of the four Gospels, dedicated to the earthly life of Jesus, but he also left us what has been defined as the first book on the history of the Church, the Acts of the Apostles. In both of these books, one of the recurring elements is prayer is, from that of Jesus to that of Mary, that of the disciples, the women and the Christian community. The Churches initial path is primarily punctuated by the action of the Holy Spirit, who transforms the Apostles intowitnesses of the Risen Christ to the shedding of their blood, and the rapid spread of the Word of God in the East and West. However, before the proclamation of the Gospel was spread, Luke records the story of the Ascension of the Risen One (cf. 1.6 to 9). The Lord delivered to the disciples the program of their existence devoted to the evangelization, and says: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of earth "(Acts 1.8). In Jerusalem, the Apostles, who were now Eleven after the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, are gathered in the house to pray, and it is in prayer that they await the promised gift of the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit.
In this context of waiting, between Ascension and Pentecost, St. Luke mentions Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and her family for the last time (v. 14). He dedicated the beginning of his Gospel to Mary, the announcement of the angel of the birth and infancy of the Son of God made man. With Mary the earthly life of Jesus begins and with Mary the first steps of the Church began, and at both moments the climate is one of listening to God in recollection. Today, therefore, I will touch on this prayerful presence of Mary in the group of disciples who will be the first nascent Church. Mary followed her Son's journey throughout his public ministry and to the foot of the cross with discretion, and now continues to follow the Church's path with a silent prayer. At the Annunciation, in Nazareth, Mary received the Angel of God, she was attentive to his words, received and responded to his divine plan, expressing her complete openness: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word"(Lk 1.38). Mary, because of her inner attitude of listening, is capable of reading her own history, acknowledging with humility that it is the Lord to act. On a visit to her cousin Elizabeth, she breaks into a prayer of praise and joy, a celebration of divine grace, that filled her heart and her life, making her the Mother of the Lord (cf. Lk 1:46-55). Praise, thanksgiving, joy in the canticle of the Magnificat, Mary does not just look at what God has done in her, but also to what he did and always does in history. Ambrose, in a famous commentary on the Magnificat, invites us to have the same spirit in prayer and says: "May Mary's soul be in each one of us to magnify the Lord and Mary’s spirit be in each one of us to rejoice in God" (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam 2, 26: PL 15, 1561).
Even in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, in the "upper room, where he used to meet" the disciples of Jesus (cf. Acts 1.13), in an atmosphere of listening and prayer, she is present, before the doors are thrown open and they begin to proclaim Christ the Lord to all nations, teaching to observe all that He had commanded (cf. Mt 28,19-20). The stages of the journey of Mary, from the house of Nazareth to Jerusalem, through the cross where her Son entrusts her to the apostle John, these stages of the journey of Mary are marked by the ability to maintain a persistent atmosphere of meditation, meditation on each event in the silence of her heart before God (cf. Lk 2.19 to 51) and meditation before God even to understand the will of God and become able to accept it within. The presence of the Mother of God with the Eleven, after the Ascension, then is not just a historical record of a past thing, but takes on a meaning of great value, because she shares with them what is her most precious asset: her living memory of Jesus, in prayer and this mission of Jesus, preserving the memory of Jesus and thus also his presence.
The last mention of Mary in the two writings of St. Luke is located on the Sabbath, the day of God's rest after the Creation, the day of silence after the death of Jesus and the expectation of his resurrection. It is in this episode that in the tradition of veneration of the Virgin on Saturday is rooted. Between the Ascension of the Risen one and the first Christian Pentecost, the Apostles and the Church gather with Mary to wait with her for the gift of the Holy Spirit, without which one can not become witnesses. She who has already received it to generate the Incarnate Word, shares with the whole Church the expectation of the same gift, so that "Christ be formed" in the heart of every believer (cf. Gal 4.19). If there is no Church without Pentecost, there is no Pentecost without the Mother of Jesus, because she lived in a unique way that which the Church experiences each day under the action of the Holy Spirit. Saint Chromatius of Aquileia comments on the annotation of Acts in this way: "It is therefore the Church gathered in the upper room with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and wither her brothers. One cannot therefore speak of the Church unless Mary, Mother of God is present... The Church of Christ is where the Incarnation of Christ from the Virgin is preached, and, where the apostles, who are brothers of the Lord preach, there where the Gospel is heard "(Sermon 30.1: SC 164, 135).
The Second Vatican Council wished to particularly emphasize this bond that is visibly manifested in with Mary and the Apostles praying together, in the same place, awaiting the Holy Spirit. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium on the Church states: " since it has pleased God not to manifest solemnly the mystery of the salvation of the human race before He would pour forth the Spirit promised by Christ, we see the apostles before the day of Pentecost "persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with His brethren",( Acts 1,14) and Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation. " (n. 59). The privileged place of Mary is the Church, wherefore she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity." (ibid., n. 53). Thus Vatican II.
Venerating the Mother of Jesus in the Church, then, means to learn from her to be a community that prays, that is one of the essential characteristics of the first description of the Christian community outlined in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42). Prayer is often dictated by difficult situations, personal problems that lead us to turn to the Lord for light, comfort and help. Mary invites us to open the dimensions of our prayer, to turn to God not only in need and not just for ourselves but in a unanimous, persevering, faithful way with a " of one heart and mind" (cf. Acts 4.32 ).
Dear friends, human life passes through various stages of transition, often difficult and demanding, which require mandatory choices, sacrifices. The Mother of Jesus was placed by the Lord at the decisive moments of salvation history and has always been able to respond with full availability, the result of a deep relationship with God developed in assiduous and intense prayer. Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the Beloved disciple was entrusted to her, and with him the whole community of disciples (cf. Jn 19:26). Between Ascension and Pentecost, she is with and in the Church in prayer (cf. Acts 1.14). Mother of God and Mother of the Church, Mary exercises this motherhood until the end of history. We entrust to her every passing phase of our personal and ecclesial life, not least that of our final transit. Mary teaches us the necessity of prayer and shows us that only with a constant, intimate bond, full of love with her son can we emerge from "our house", by ourselves, with courage, to reach the ends of the world and proclaim everywhere the Lord Jesus, Saviour of the world.