Come, Let us Adore the Lord, with ...
Our Lady of Expectation, December 18
by Fr. Marian Zalecki, OSPPE
The National Shrine of
Our Lady of Czestochowa
“As for Mary, she treasured all these things
and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19).
From the very beginning of Christianity, the believers in Christ cherished a special love for Mary, His Mother. Instinctively they sensed that she must be the purest of virgins and the most honored of all women, to whom they could confide all their trials. Reading the Holy Gospels and then following the teaching of the early Fathers of Church, they learned more of her unique role in the life of Jesus and of her power of intercession. Beneath the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, we see the inscriptions and graffiti that depict Mary as the one who intercedes for the departed Christians to her Son, the Judge. In the Roman Catacombs, we find the wall drawings that represent Mary as the throne of wisdom “Sedes Sapientiae” holding the baby Jesus, the Incarnated Wisdom on her knees whom she presents to the poor shepherds of Bethlehem and to the Wise Men from the Orient.
As the Christian message began to reach different parts of the world, across the Mediterranean Sea, the knowledge of Mary increased considerably in the minds of the believers and the love for her grew ever deeper in their hearts. To express their sentiments of veneration, a litany of invocations was collected and new titles multiplied in number and affection. The popular devotion began to spring up in various regions and countries that enriched greatly the Marian piety. Many lovely hymns and prayers, mostly in Latin, were composed, just to mention the Angelic salutation “Ave Maria...” (Hail Mary), “Salve Regina” (Hail, Holy Queen) and the most ancient of them “Sub Tuum Praesidlum” (Under your protection) and they are still much loved to this day. Hundreds of new titles were given to Our Blessed Lady by her devotees and many of them were approved by the Church and included in the sacred liturgy. Some of them are celebrated in a particular region, country or continent.
As we celebrate Christmas again, the mystery of the Incarnation, we are to contemplate the greatest gift of God for His people, the gift of His Son, born of the Virgin Mary, promised from the dawn of time, the woman’s “offspring, who shall crush the serpent’s head” (Gn 3:15) one day; proclaimed by the prophets: “The Virgin is with the child and shall bear a son, and she will call him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14) and fulfilled in time “The Word of God became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (J 1:14) and this “while they were there the time came for her to have a child, and she gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.” (Lk 2:67).
One of the most inspiring days preceding Christmas is the feast of “Our Lady of Expectation,” unknown to many today, but still kept alive in many countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland as well as in a few religious orders. In older editions of missals, this feast is still listed as a votive Mass. The feast is celebrated on the 18th of December, a week before Christmas Day. Our Blessed Lady, well advanced in pregnancy, is portrayed in the highest dignity of her Divine Motherhood. Dressed in royal apparel as daughter of David the King, she awaits with joy the arrival of her divine Son, the Prince of Peace. Her whole posture suggests how she remains wholly consumed in contemplation of her Son under her heart. Her immaculate womb has become a living portable sanctuary of divinity. There are special prayers and novenas to “Our Lady of Expectation” available for women who cannot conceive or bear a child.
The votive Mass of “Our Lady of Expectation” is theologically enlightening and spiritually enriching for the time of Advent and Christmas. With the entrance antiphon, the Church prays with the prophet for the coming of the Just One from heaven that the earth may be ready to welcome the Savior: “Send victory like a dew, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the just. Let the earth open for salvation to spring up” (Is 45:8). In the opening prayer, the Church offers the prayer to God through Mary’s intercession: “O God who wished that your Word would take the flesh from the womb of the Virgin as announced by the Angel and whom we confess to be the true Mother of God, may we be helped by her intercession.”
In the Liturgy of the Word, in the first reading, we hear about the “sign” God will give to the chosen people of Israel and to all people about his plan for the Incarnation of his Son. This “sign” is the Holy Virgin Mary herself, who will give birth to the Son, who will be named the “Emmanuel” (God is with us). This “sign” will appear again at the end of time: “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labor, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth” (Rv 12:12). Through the miracle of the Incarnation, God’s only begotten Son became a son of our humanity as St. John noted: “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word who is life—this is our subject. That life was made visible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.” (1 J 13).
In the responsorial psalm, King David makes the way for the solemn entry of God, the Great King, into the sanctuary of the Temple: “Gates, raise your arches, rise, you ancient doors, let the king of glory in! Who is this king of glory? He is Yahweh Sabbaoth, King of glory” (Ps 24:910). Now, this new sanctuary the heavenly King of glory will enter into is the purest womb of the Virgin Mary, a bridal chamber of adoration.
The Gospel message on this feast relates the story of the Annunciation. God asks a woman, his creature for a favor to be Mother of his Son, and at the same time, he respects her freedom. She is free to say “yes” or “no.” There is a moment of waiting in heaven and on earth: God waits for her answer, the heavenly messenger waits for her answer, the first parents Adam and Eve wait for her answer, all confined in hell wait for her answer. With grateful heart, we thank Mary, the Wise and Prudent Virgin, for saying “yes” to God on our behalf. Her simple words: “Let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1:38) brought down to us the Savior and has changed the world forever. She obeyed the Angel not the Devil and thus she pleased God: “Blessed are you because of your belief that the promise made to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45).
At the offertory, the Church blesses “Our Lad of Expectation” with the Angel’s greeting “Rejoice, so highly favored. The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:29); “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). Mary is doubly blessed: in her virginity and motherhood and thus stands as an ideal and inspiration for every woman single or married. Her virginal womb is blessed with the Divine Life. She is the Mother of every child ever conceived under the mother’s heart. What an example she offers to all expectant mothers to welcome, to nurture life and to bring it to the full maturity of Christ’s humanity. At the same time, we must pray for the end of abortion, the greatest evil in our days and to promote the civilization of love and family life.
The Holy Virgin Mary, “Our Lady of Expectation”, is a great educator of the Christian family. Christmas is a family celebration. We all want to be home for Christmas. She teaches us how to love and enjoy our own humanity and the humanity of her Son, we celebrate on Christmas Day. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
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