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The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Blessed Is the Fruit of Her Womb

Saturday, May 30, 2020

By Br John Bernard Church, O.P | A Rosary Vigil on the eve of Pentecost in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament puts before us a mystery that lies at the heart of our faith: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin which brought forth the Salvation of the World. This reflection was given at the Blackfriars Rosary Vigil, and the video and text can be found below.


On the night before Pentecost, the Apostles and the Blessed Mother were together in one room pondering and praying. St Luke is very clear in how he characterises this time, after the Ascension. In his Gospel we hear that the Apostles “were continually in the Temple praising God”, while in the Acts of the Apostles we find them “constantly devoting themselves to prayer”: prayer, continually and constantly. So too it is for us to pray continually and pray constantly.

It is thus an especially fitting time to come together to pray the Rosary, as a way of placing ourselves in that upper room. The Rosary is a form of prayer that is constant and continuous, an immersion into a steady of stream of divine praise. But it is also what most closely unites our prayers with those of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was also with the Apostles on that same night before Pentecost. 

As the Apostles waited for the Holy Spirit, one wonders what they had in mind as they prayed. Jesus had told them a great deal about the Holy Spirit, the Comforter that He would send, who would “teach them all things”. And central to all Jesus told them were the words: “He will dwell with you, and He will be in You.” No doubt, while comforting, these words left some degree of uncertainty. What does it actually mean for the Holy Spirit to ‘dwell within me’? What will my life look like when this promised Comforter arrives? And why couldn’t Jesus just have stayed here on earth?

If the Apostles were taken up in their prayer pondering such things, a helpful answer sat right before them, an answer we would do well to consider too: they could look across the room to Mary.

We cannot penetrate the mystery of Mary’s own contemplative experience, all that she treasured in her heart. But we can look to her to try to understand the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, as it was in her that the Spirit worked most fully. And it is a mystery that lies at the heart of the prayer that we will say constantly and continually this night: the Hail Mary.

There we address Mary as ‘full of grace’ - The Holy Spirit is the source of God’s grace, the love by which we are made fit for heaven; as the Angel Gabriel’s greeting reveals, Mary our Mother is already replete with the burning love of this Spirit.

We address Mary as ‘blessed among women’ - The Holy Spirit sanctifies, the Divine Artist and finger of God’s right hand who moulds us to be saints; as her cousin Elizabeth recognises, in Mary  our Mother this work is visibly preeminent.

And most crucially, we declare blessed the fruit of her womb, Jesus - The culmination of the Holy Spirit’s work in the entire History of Salvation took place in the womb of Blessed Virgin, the fruit of which is the Incarnation. It is through the work of the Spirit that the presence of Jesus is made known.

The name of Jesus is the hinge of the Hail Mary, its focal point. This is why we will pray our Rosary tonight before the Blessed Sacrament, Christ truly present in the Eucharist, for it is to Christ that our prayers are ultimately directed.

This may feel odd across a screen, to adore the sacramental presence only visible via a television or a computer. And it is certainly not ordinary. But I hope that perhaps on this occasion, when circumstances require such strange realities, it might be an aid to reach deeper into the mystery that this Rosary on the eve of Pentecost puts before us: the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin.

It is a mystery of divine presence, of indwelling: it concerns a blessed women full of grace, whose receptivity to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit brought forth in her womb the Salvation of the world… Our Lord Jesus Christ. So while a screen may hold your gaze, may keep you from Christ’s sacramental presence, tonight we are called to pray constantly and pray continually for a different kind of presence. To pray that, like our Blessed Mother, the Holy Spirit may dwell with us, may be in us, a divine indwelling, the fruit of which will be a love that is Jesus Christ Himself.


Br John Bernard Church O.P.

Br John Bernard, raised a Catholic by an English father and Dutch mother, first encountered the Dominicans at Blackfriars while studying Classics at the University of Oxford, and entered the noviciate in 2018. An attraction to religious life initially grew out of time spent working with the Missionaries of Charity, which then crystallised into a Dominican vocation through a desire to integrate the contemplative life with preaching and study. Based on his recent reading, he looks forward to delving further into St John of the Cross and the Carmelite mystics, as well as combining his preaching vocation with a love of the outdoors. | john.church@english.op.org

MORE ON: OUR LADY; THE ROSARY


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