Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mary, the Woman of the Eucharist. The Magnificat, the Prayer of the Eucharist

Sandro Botticelli  1445 –  1510
La Madonna del Magnificat (Madonna con il Bambino e cinque angeli)
c 1483
Tempera on wood
118×118 cm  (Diameter)
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

It has been said that in this work Botticelli successfully combined Classical naturalism with Christian spirituality

The title of the painting derives from the word "Magnificat" which is written in the book held by the two angels. Mary is completing the last words of the prayer as her son guides her hand. The prayer (Luke 1.46-55) is on the right hand page

The song is of joy and exultation in the Lord,  the lowly being singled out for God’s favour, the reversal of human fortunes, and  the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. 

On the left hand page is the song of Zacharias, the Benedictus (Luke 1.68-79). 

That is the song of praise of Zacharias on the birth of his son, St John the Baptist. St John was and is of course the patron saint of Florence. The patron of the painting (unknown) was a Florentine and a very rich and successful one. 

In his other hand, Christ holds a red pomegranate. He is offering it to his mother Mary. The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus' suffering and his glorious resurrection.

The Virgin Mary is crowned by two angels. Her crown is studded with multitudes of Stars of the Sea. 

The setting is this world. But Mary is shown crowned as Queen of Heaven

The attribution is disputed. Vasari described such a work by Botticelli. However the work he described had eight angels not five

It is not only the frame which is gold like. Real gold is used in the painting. The crown, the hair of Mary and the angels, the robes all have gold added

It is a tondo with a beautiful engraved frame with many symbols. The tondo is meant to be a convex mirror

We are reminded of 1 Corinthians 13 and in particular verse 12:
"At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known"
The work is a statement of Faith in the face of Mystery

The relation between Mary and the Eucharist is a subject of long standing teaching. Chapter 6 of Blessed John Paul II`s Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia is devoted to the subject. 

In 2005, there was a Synod of Bishops which followed on the Encyclical. The Synod`s theme  was Eucharistia: fons et culmen vitae et missionis Ecclesiae (The Eucharist: source and summit of the life and mission of the Church)

Rather strangely despite the Encyclical, the Lineamenta of the Synod had very little if not nothing on the connection between Mary and the Eucharist

The questions for discussion by the Synod omitted any mention of Mary

This was despite three  paragraphs of Pope John Paul II`s Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine convening the Synod and inaugurating The Year of the Eucharist (paragraphs 8 = 10 inclusive) which emphasised the importance of the role of Mary in the consideration of the Synod`s deliberations on the Eucharist

In particular he said:
"10. In the midst of the Year of the Rosary, I issued the Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, with the intention of shedding light on the mystery of the Eucharist in its inseparable and vital relation to the Church. I urged all the faithful to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice with due reverence, offering to Jesus present in the Eucharist, both within and outside Mass, the worship demanded by so great a Mystery. Above all, I suggested once again the need for a Eucharistic spirituality and pointed to Mary, “woman of the Eucharist” as its model"

However the then Primate of Argentina, Cardinal Borgoglio now Pope Francis made an important intervention at the Synod

He spoke on two sentences of Pope John Paul II`s Encyclical: 
"If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist." (para 57) 
"The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat!" (para 58)

His intervention was short and to the point

He said:
"Una frase del Instrumentum Laboris (nº 2) dice que “es necesario verificar si la ley de la oración corresponde a la ley de la fe, es decir, preguntarse en qué cree y cómo vive el Pueblo de Dios para que la Eucaristía pueda ser cada vez más la fuente y la cumbre de la vida y de la misión de la Iglesia”: una intuición muy rica que va a buscar a Cristo en sus beneficiarios y testigos más pequeños en el santo pueblo fiel de Dios, ese pueblo que -en su totalidad- es “infallibile in credendo”.

1) Nuestro pueblo fiel cree en la Eucaristía como pueblo sacerdotal (cfr. Christi fideles laici, 1, 14). Es una participación cualitativamente constante (cfr. Id. 1, 17).

2) Nuestro pueblo fiel cree en la Eucaristía como pueblo eucarístico en María. Vincula el cariño a la Eucaristía y el cariño a la Virgen nuestra Madre y Señora (cfr. Redemptoris Mater, III, 44). En la escuela de María, mujer eucarística, podemos releer contemplativamente los pasajes en que Juan Pablo II ve a nuestra Señora como mujer eucarística y mirarla no sola sino “en compañía” (Hech. 1;14) del pueblo de Dios. Seguimos aquí aquella regla de la tradición según la cual, con distintos matices “lo que se dice de María se dice del alma de cada cristiano y de la Iglesia entera” (cfr. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 57).

Nuestro pueblo fiel tiene la verdadera “actitud eucarística” de la acción de gracias y la alabanza. Recordando a María nuestro pueblo fiel agradece el ser recordado por ella y es este memorial de amor verdaderamente eucarístico. Al respecto repito lo que Juan Pablo II afirmaba en el nº 58 de Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “La Eucaristía se nos ha dado para que nuestra vida sea, como la de María, toda ella un magnificat”."

Like Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI also tried to redress the balance in favour of Mary in his Post Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007)  by a large discussion on the role of Mary. Amongst a number of important points he wrote
"[E]very time we approach the Body and Blood of Christ in the eucharistic liturgy, we also turn to her who, by her complete fidelity, received Christ's sacrifice for the whole Church. The Synod Fathers rightly declared that "Mary inaugurates the Church's participation in the sacrifice of the Redeemer."  She is the Immaculata, who receives God's gift unconditionally and is thus associated with his work of salvation. Mary of Nazareth, icon of the nascent Church, is the model for each of us, called to receive the gift that Jesus makes of himself in the Eucharist"