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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

13th August 2006

Fr David Shepherd

The Blessed Virgin Mary

If you went to mass in a Roman Catholic Church until a couple of generations ago you would have seen many devout ladies telling their rosary beads, It was part of popular catholic devotion and linked to the cult of Mary whose feast we celebrate today.

In Catholic Europe the Feast of the Assumption celebrated on 15th August is usually a public holiday .The Feast of the Assumption celebrates the Catholic doctrine that after her death Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. To our Anglican minds the Assumption is problematic; a ‘big assumption’ as on wag put it. Instead we play safe and keep today as the Fest of the Blessed Virgin without particular doctrinal insistence.

As rosaries are to popular Catholicism then hymn singing is to the popular expression of Anglican Christianity. We are more comfortable when our Mariology is expressed unofficially in song. We find it easier to sing of Mary than to speak of her. Today we will be singing the hymn, ‘Sing we of the blessed mother.’ It was written by the late George Timms, a former Archdeacon of Hackney, who wrote many hymns. It is a meditation on four episodes from Mary’s life, a kind of abridged Rosary or a series of pictures or icons. As with all icons depicting Mary our attention is directed to her Son Jesus. We are also led to respond in faith to the Gospel message.

  1. The first verse concerns the Annunciation & the Birth of Jesus. We are reminded of Mary’s profound obedience to the Word of God, of her ‘yes’ to the angel’s message that she would be the mother of Jesus, despite all the uncertainty and costliness involved. In the Rosary these are the joyful mysteries. Just as Mary joyfully fed her infant Son, so we in joy receive food for eternal life in the Eucharist. As we sing we are reminded of Mary’s great song of faith, the Magnificat. We have just sung Timothy Dudley Smith’s version of it ‘Tell out my Soul’. With its roots in Hannah’s song in the OT, the Magnificat springs from Mary’s humility and poverty, praising God who turns the world upside down.
  2. In the second verse our prayers are directed to the foot of the cross via Simeon’s prophecy of the piercing sword at the Presentation of Our Lord in the temple. Mary remained prayerfully present with her Son when others had fled. Being with others, helpless in the face of suffering is very difficult. Our instinct is often to run. In being there Mary glimpsed the redemption that comes from Christ’s death on the Cross. She saw the way through.
  3. From sorrow we pass with Mary to the joy of the Resurrection and the Coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. According to the ancient tradition of the Church, Mary was a witness of the Resurrection along with the apostles. This is expressed in the popular Catholic devotion the Salve Regina. In Acts Mary is recorded as being present at the first Pentecost thus associating her with the birth of the Christian Church as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit. 1. There is a progression through the hymn from the earthly and finite with its suffering and uncertainty to the heavenly and eternal, ending with the traditional picture of the Assumption. Although not scriptural we can see a picture of Mary entering into the eternal life that is her Son’s gift to all his people. As the Salvationist’s say she was ‘promoted to glory’.

Thus in an Anglican way we are drawn to reflect on the person of Mary as we sing. The hymns we sing are rooted in the scriptures and in the tradition of the Church. Most of us will be more comfortable with this approach than with the papal proclamation of the Assumption as a dogma to be believed by all Christians.

It is well known that music affects us at a far deeper level than the spoken word. Good music, good hymnody can take us beyond the rational to God who is both knowable and yet unknowable. In singing of Mary, the blessed Mother we pray that with her we may be drawn more closely into the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of God. We pray that like her we may come to know him more fully through his Son Jesus Christ Our Lord.


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Comments about this site or problems? Contact Webmaster (Colin Richards) at Last updated 17/08/06 09:30 Author: David Shepherd