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The Litany of the Blessed
Virgin Has Greek Roots

    The Litany of the Blessed Virgin

    In our parish a group of us gather before Mass to pray the rosary and the Litany of the Blessed Mother. From where did the Litany of the Blessed Virgin come? And what do the titles “Mirror of Justice,” “Seat of Wisdom,” “Mystical Rose,” “Tower of David,” “Tower of Ivory,” “House of Gold,” “Morning Star” and “Ark of the Covenant” mean?

    According to the Dictionary of Mary, published by Catholic Book Publishing Company, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin has a long history. Many of the praises in the litany came from prayers of the Greek Church, in particular the Akathist Hymn which was to be sung standing out of reverence for the Incarnation. Each of 24 strophes (parts or stanzas) began with a succeeding letter of the Greek alphabet and concluded alternately with “Rejoice, O Virgin Spouse” and “Alleluia.”

    The form of the litany was modeled on the earlier Litany of the Saints. The Dictionary speculates that the Litany of the Blessed Virgin originated in Paris. It probably dates from between 1150 and 1200.

    The Litany of the Blessed Virgin is sometimes called the Litany of Loreto, because we know it was used at the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto, as early as 1558. Pope Sixtus V gave approval to the prayer in 1587. Over the years the Church added the invocations, “Queen conceived without sin,” “Queen assumed into heaven,” “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary” and “Queen of peace.” In 1980 the Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship directed that the invocation “Mother of the Church” be inserted at the proper place.

    According to Our Lady in Catholic Life, by Lawrence G. Lovasik (The MacMillan Company), in biblical language justice is the perfect observance of God’s commandments. Mary was perfectly responsive to the will of God; thus, she is the reflection of God’s own holiness. She mirrors the holiness of God. She is the “mirror of justice.”

    Mary can be called the “Seat of Wisdom” because wisdom became incarnate in her son Jesus whom she carried in her womb. And she herself possessed and practiced true wisdom in the highest degree.

    The rose is regarded as the queen of flowers. Goodness and holiness flower in the saints. Mary, the queen of saints, can be called then the “Mystical Rose” and in her are found the mystical mysteries.

    According to Lovasik, the “Tower of David” was the strongest tower in the wall of Jerusalem. It was so strong it survived Rome’s destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Lovasik sees the Church as the new Jerusalem and Mary as the strong point in the Church’s fight against evil.

    “Ivory” is suggestive of peace, wealth and joyous feasting. Wealthy people among the ancients lined their palaces with ivory. Lovasik, then, calls Mary a “Tower of Ivory” reaching to the heavens as a sign of peace. In her is the wealth of grace that comes from union with God.

    Chapters 6 and 7 in First Kings describe the temple that Solomon built. The author writes that the entire temple was overlaid with gold! (6:22) So, too, the altar and many of the furnishings were of gold (7:48-50). Mary was the temple of God; her womb “housed” the Lord. She is the “House of Gold.”

    If you look in the dictionary, you may discover that the Planet Venus is called the morning star. That is because it appears in the eastern sky just before or at sunrise. Mary is the “Morning Star” that heralds the coming of Jesus, the sun of justice and the dawning of the day of redemption.

    In Chapters 25 and 40 of Exodus there is a description of the Ark of the Covenant. It was a symbol of God’s presence to Israel. And in the ark were placed the Commandments of the Law—God’s covenant with Israel. Mary was the “Ark of the Covenant” in the sense that her womb contained the maker of the Law; she made God present to humankind in the incarnation of the Son.



    The Pilgrim Statue

    Can you tell me anything about the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima? I’ve been to Fatima and am very interested in the statue which I see mentioned in our Catholic paper as being at various churches. What is the significance of it?

    In 1967 Pope Paul VI, at Fatima, blessed several statues depicting the Blessed Virgin as she had appeared to the children of Fatima.

    One of these statues was brought to Canada. It is known as the National Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Canada. This statue is taken on “pilgrimage” to different dioceses and parts of the world accompanied by Canadian Fatima Crusaders.

    The presence of the statue provides the occasion for prayers and devotions as well as for publicizing the events that took place at Fatima in 1917.

    Mail-order catalogs of any number of religious-article dealers will carry photos of replicas of the pilgrim statue in different sizes.


    Catholics and Communion in Other Churches

    I will be attending a family wedding in an Orthodox church. May I receive Communion during the wedding Mass?

    Canon 844, #2, says that, as often as necessity requires it or genuine spiritual advantage recommends it, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, the faithful, for whom it is physically or morally impossible to go to a Catholic minister, may receive the Sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

    Whatever else might be said, I think it would be very unlikely that a Catholic living in ordinary circumstances in a large city would find it physically or morally impossible to receive the Eucharist from a Catholic minister. Therefore I do not believe you may receive the Eucharist at an Orthodox wedding. Even if all the conditions seemed to be present, a Catholic might stop to ask or consider how members of the other Church might feel about a non-member receiving Communion in their Church.



    Three in the Bible

    In reading the Bible, I’m noticing numerous references to the number three or sets of three. For example, the three calls of Samuel, three temptations of Jesus in the desert, the Trinity, three days in the tomb, Jesus’ three-year ministry, 33 when he died!

    I know certain numbers had special significance, like seven representing perfection. What does the number three mean in Hebrew/Jewish understanding, or are these numerous references to three simply coincidences? And are there any texts of which you are aware that discuss these number patterns in detail and their meaning?

    I could not find much on the significance of numbers in the Bible. Entries in Volume 10 of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, however, deal with numbers and number symbolism in the Bible.

    At the end of the Bible entry by Howard Joseph Sorensen, O.M.I., there is a bibliography. Most of the works there are probably out of print or in a foreign language. But a good public or university library might help you in finding something on numbers in the Bible.

    With that said, Sorensen does note the number three indicates completeness and is superlative—a thing is entirely what it is said to be. A person dead three days is really dead. One who is thrice holy is perfectly holy.

    Sorensen further notes that four indicates comprehensiveness. The four corners of the earth represent every direction.

    Seven also indicates completeness, and can be used of good or evil. Magdalene, for instance, was possessed by seven devils.

    Twelve is associated with the 12 tribes of Israel, thus, the people of God, the 12 apostles and the multiples of 12 in the Book of Revelation.

    In the end Sorensen makes the important statement that the Bible never attributes a special power to numbers and a number has no special meaning apart from the thing signified.



    The Despair and Fate of Judas

    What happened to Judas? Is Judas in hell? He despaired. What happens when other people fall into despair and kill themselves?

    Concerning the fate of Judas, the following statement appears in Basics of the Faith: A Catholic Catechism, by Alan Schreck (Servant Books): “The Catholic Church teaches that we cannot judge or determine whether any particular person has been condemned to hell, even Hitler or Judas Iscariot. The mercy of God is such that a person can repent even at the point of death and be saved.”

    A Scripture professor reminds me that Scripture does not explicitly use the word despair concerning Judas. And other than to define it, not many manuals or catechisms speak much of despair. An American Catechism, edited by George Dyer (Seabury Press), however, says of despair that it seems to be: “Besides a distortion of faith itself, more a psychological and emotional crisis, perhaps generated by past sins, than a mortal sin in itself. Obviously despair is a grievous matter.

    “But it is very difficult to conceive how a person who despairs could fulfill in this act the other conditions requisite for mortal sin. It is particularly difficult to believe that a person who despairs does so with full consent of the will or in a radically free act.”



    Eucharist: Symbol or Reality

    In our missalette for the Solemnity of the Epiphany the prayer over the gifts, the bread and wine, speaks of them as symbolizing Christ.

    But don’t most priests say they are really the body and blood of Jesus Christ? Are they both or is there a difference of opinion?

    The teaching of the Church is clear—with the words of consecration, Christ becomes really and truly present among us. The substance of the bread and wine is changed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood. The accidents and appearances of bread and wine remain, however. “There is no change in the perceptible [italics mine] reality of the bread, for example, the reality which we see and touch, and which is the subject of study in physics and chemistry.” (For more on this, see the Supplement to A New Catechism [Crossroad].) The consecrated bread and wine become signs of the supernatural.

    Eating and drinking the consecrated bread and wine (the body and blood of Christ) symbolize or sign our unity with Christ. Sharing in the one bread and cup further signs our unity with each other in Christ. God’s gift of the Eucharist is a sign of his care and providence just like the manna in the desert.

    So the Church can pray on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, “You give us your body and blood in the Eucharist as a sign that even now we share your life.”

    Or on the Solemnity of the Epiphany we can pray at the prayer over the gifts, “Lord, accept the offerings of your Church [the bread and wine], not gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the sacrifice and food they symbolize, Jesus Christ, who is Lord for ever and ever.”

    The bread and wine, offered at the offertory, are signs of Christ who will become present in the gifts and of his sacrifice being recalled and represented to the Father in the eucharistic celebration.



    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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