St. Mary Major has existed as a church structure in Rome since the mid-fourth century. The church was rededicated by Pope Sixtus III shortly after the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary's title as Mother of God in 431.
It is difficult to comprehend the violent disagreements that marked the early Church. However, one need only listen to the hectoring arguments on any number of theological topics today to realize that, though there is a less a threat of physical violence, human nature has changed very little since the fourth century. The debate can still get nasty where God is concerned.
Nestorius and his followers insisted that Mary was the mother only of the human Jesus. Thus Nestorius decreed that Mary would be named "Mother of Christ" in his diocese. When the Council of Ephesus refuted Nestorious, believers took the streets chanting in agreement "Theotokos." Greek for "giving birth to God." Of course, Mary is Christotokos as well. But, Theotokos includes a specific Christological understanding. Today's readings echo this understanding.
"Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race." That indwelling of God with the human race began in a specific way with Mary the Theotokos. "Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who tell of the might of God." The sound of Mary's fiat has echoed throughout the universe down the millennia. It will continue to echo until the end of the universe and beyond that end into eternity. Mary is indeed, "the highest honor of our race." Chapter VIII of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church is titled simply, "Our Lady." Section 66 begins with the following: "Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most holy mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ."
Today we commemorate Mary, the Theotokos who said, "May it be done unto me according to your word." We can only reply, "Holy Mary, mother of God pray for us sinners."
Had to go to Plymouth on Tuesday of last week. My Aunt Irene Gabriel, mom's youngest sister died suddenly on Sunday at the age of 90 and was buried on Thursday. Like her two older sisters, Aunt Irene lived alone in her own home until the day of her death. Like her three older siblings, she never fell and broke a hip. None of the cousins ever had to deal with the question of a nursing home because of dementia. Now, for the first time in 113 years, none of the four Yob siblings reside in Plymouth. They had quite a run of continuous residence in the town. The travel down was easy and the weather cooperated though I was exhausted upon returning home on Friday. I wandered through St. Mary's Church with the camera the day before the funeral.
St. Mary's (formally Nativity of the B.V.M.) was flooded by the Agnes flood of 1972. There is a brass plaque on the main entrance showing how high the water reached. It is practically a full flight of stairs to enter via the front door but the water was still several feet deep. Aunt Irene lived in the house across the street until she moved to something one floor about 4 years ago. Her house had the steepest staircase I've ever seen in a house. The water stopped one step from flooding her second floor. My parents had "only" seven feet in the living room and dad's office. The church was redone, once very badly and then, after the consolidation of St. Stephen's and St. Vincent's, in much better taste bringing together significant items from the other two church buildings into St. Mary's.
The main altar. This was brought from St. Vincent's. It replaced a truly ghastly "remodeling" with a lot of garish white marble that was done some time in the 80's.
The view of the organ and choir loft from the ambo. The stained glass in the windows was undamaged during the flood. It is over 100 years old now.
A detail of the stained glass in the main doors. This was done by the Baut Studios in Swoyersville, a nearby town. Swoyersville may be a tiny town but the Baut reputation is international.
The baptismal font was also brought from St. Vincent's. The altar and font are over 130 years old.
A bank of votive lights reflecting in polished granite. I did not have the tripod handy at the time thus I had to shoot at a very high film speed with a wide-open aperture, thus the grainy appearance called noise.
These last two are from Campion Center. They illustrate why it is good to carry the camera. It was sunset in the rotunda. I happened to have the camera over my shoulder. This lasted only a few minutes and then was gone.
And shooting straight up.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD