I was going to post one of my Brief Musical Interludes today and completely overlooked the fact that yesterday was Pentecost. I usually like to post something about the day I’m discussing on the day in question, but I came across an article on another site that’s gotten me thinking. Over on Steadfast Lutherans aka the Brothers of John the Steadfast (aka the Lutheran Taliban as my husband calls it) there is a post titled Caricatures of Catholicism: Mary. The post and the discussion that follows does a good job of explaining the Lutheran perspective on the Church’s relationship with the Virgin Mary. I wonder if it was purely coincidence that the author of this post put this up on Pentecost. There are so many illustrations of the Pentecost with Mary as the central figure.
The post got me wondering about just what the rôle of Mary is. What can we say about Mary that is supported by scripture?
Dear is to me the holy Maid
Dear is to me the holy Maid,
I never can forget her;
For glorious things of her are said;
Than life I love her better:
So dear and good,
That if I should
It moves not me;
For she my soul will ravish
With constancy and love’s pure fire,
And with her bounty lavish
Fulfil my heart’s desire.
She wears a crown of purest gold,
Twelve shining stars attend her;
Her raiment, glorious to behold,
Surpasses far in splendor
The sun at noon;
Upon the moon
She stands, the Bride
Of him who died:
Sore travail is upon her;
She bringeth forth a noble Son
Whom all the world doth honor;
She bows before his throne.
Thereat the Dragon raged, and stood
With open mouth before her;
But vain was his attempt, for God
His buckler broad threw o’er her.
Up to his throne
He caught his Son,
But left the foe
To rage below.
The mother, sore afflicted,
Alone into the desert fled,
There by her God protected,
By her true Father fed.
I was shocked. Perhaps Luther wrote this while still an Augustinian, but the melody is that of Ein Feste Burg. Luther regarded Mary as the Queen of Heaven, however he was wary of the power that that name may imply. There may be people whose piety allows them to call Mary higher than the cherubim, or more glorious than the seraphim, but these expressions do not have a root in the solid ground of scripture. (Though my husband would argue that the fact that she is the Theotokos, the God-Bearer, naturally makes her higher than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim. What Seraph ever gave birth to God?)
Another bush that grows without having it’s root in scripture is the title of ever virgin. The Bible clearly states that Jesus had siblings.
Is not this the Carpenters sonne? Is not his mother called Marie? and his brethren, Iames, and Ioses, and Simon, and Iudas?And his sisters, are they not all with vs?
Is not this the carpenter, the sonne of Mary, the brother of Iames and Ioses, and of Iuda, and Simon? And are not his sisters heere with vs?
But other of the Apostles saw I none, saue Iames the Lords brother.
In the Pentecost account in Acts:
And when they were come in, they went vp into an vpper roome, where abode both Peter & Iames, & Iohn, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, Iames the sonne of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Iudas the brother of Iames.These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Iesus, and with his brethen.
The Assumption of Mary cannot be found in the Bible. Neither can Mary as Intercessor, Mediatrix, or Co-Redemprtix. In fact, there are scriptures that point to the falacy of these doctrines:
For there is one God, and one Mediatour betweene God and men, the man Christ Iesus,
…there bee some that trouble you, and would peruert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an Angel from heauen, preach any other Gospel vnto you, then that which wee haue preached vnto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now againe, If any man preach any other Gospel vnto you, then that yee haue receiued, let him be accursed.
The doctrine of the immaculate conception is problematic as it is contrary to the scriptures which state that all were conceived and born in sin. This seems to be significant, and even more beautiful as it allows any of us to share in the blessings of Mary which are the Grace of God.
So what am I comfortable saying about the Virgin Mary?
She is the Blessed Virgin Mary; all generations call her blessed; she is the Most Highly Favored Lady, the Theotokos, the Mother of God. All of this is backed up in Scripture. (My husband would also point out what Luther said in his Christmas sermon of 1529: “Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees…If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother.”)
Perhaps it’s that we celebrated Mother’s Day at church a month and a half ago; or perhaps it’s that I just read my calendar wrong, but I now realize that today is not Mothra’s Day but rather Mother’s Day.
Why did we celebrate Mother’s Day in March? The traditional Mother’s Day is also called Mothering Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, or Laetare Sunday, and comes the fourth Sunday in Lent. It’s the day on which servant girls would be given the day off to go home and visit their mother at their home parish. They would bake special cakes to take home called simnel cakes. Nobody’s quite sure where the term simnel comes from, but it’s speculated that it has a relation to seed or semolina, and implies that it is made of the finest flour that could be found. This is a particularly English custom (although I’ve heard of simnel cakes in Ireland too) and it’s one that is practiced in the Anglo Catholic church I attend in New York.
On Laetare Sunday many of the congregants will bake simnel cakes and bring them to church. After the service, they are blessed by the priest, taken to the undercroft, and shared. We’re always reminded that this is not a competition, but it always feels good to be told that your cake was the favorite of So And So. My cake is a rather “adult” version of the traditional cake as I don’t shy away from rolling real maraschino cherries into the marzipan balls that adorn the top of the cake…and I use plenty of liquor. There is a traditional parish recipe that demands that the decorations be coloured with food colouring and that there be twelve balls on the cake. Here’s my recipe:
I do make my own marzipan by grinding almonds in my spice grinder to which I then add caster sugar and a bit of flavouring. The usual recipe asks for a bit of almond extract, but I don’t love almonds so I replace the almond extract with whatever smokey scotch I happen to have in my bar.
4 cups ground almonds
2 cups caster sugar
2 small eggs
1 tsp scotch
Combine all of the above ingredients in a bowl. If the paste is too moist, add more ground almonds until it is the consistency of a good dough. this can be done a day or two in advance of cooking the cake and kept in an air tight container in the fridge.
Simnel cake is a fruitcake, but don’t worry: you don’t need to begin this project months in advance as you would with a black fruitcake, but you should prepare the fruit for the cake a few days in advance of baking the cake.
5 cups of mixed sultanas, raisins, and currents. (Feel free to experiment. If you like sultanas [and can find them] but you don’t like currents, use more sultanas. Use a variety of golden and dark raisins, or substitute golden raisins for the sultanas. The thing that is important is that there be 5 cups of “raisins.”)
1/2 cup dried cherries (once again if you like the idea of more cherries you can add more so long as you reduce the amount of raisins by the amount of cherries you add above 1/2 a cup.)
Put the cherries and raisins in a bowl and cover with your favorite liquor. (I use a combination of Kirsch and Maraschino as I like the cherry flavour, but I’ve also used brandy and rhum.) Keep this along with the marzipan in the fridge, about two days, until you’re ready to bake the cake.
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup candied peel
2 sticks butter
1-1/2 cups light soft brown sugar
2-1/4 cups flour
2 tsp combination cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg
2 tbsp Gooseberry Jam
Once you have all of your ingredients assembled grease the base and sides of a 9-inch round pan with butter and line with brown paper. I use an extra deep pan as this is a two layer cake baked in one pan.
In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Mix the spice with the flour and fold in gently. Remove the fruit that’s been soaking from the liquor. Combine the fruit (Reserving 12 cherries for later), zest, and candied peel and gently fold into the batter. Put half the cake mixture into the prepared pan.
Dust your counter top and rolling pin with confectioners sugar and roll out one third the almond paste into a round to cover the batter in the cake pan. Place this on top of the uncooked batter in the pan. Cover the marzipan with the remaining batter making a small indentation in the center of the cake.
Bake at 325F for one hour, reduce the heat to 300 and bake for another two hours, or until a broom straw inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave cake to cool. When the cake is thoroughly cooled, remove from the pan and peel off the paper.
Use the jam to fill the indentation on the top of the cake. (Traditionally the jam used is apricot, but like the use of Kirsch, I’ve used some rather Germanic ingredients to reflect my own ancestral background.)
Roll half of the remaining almond paste into a 9-inch round and cover the top of the cake.
Roll the last of the almond paste into eleven, or twelve, balls about the size of a walnut placing one of the reserved Maraschino cherries in the center of each ball, and arrange the balls around the edge of the cake. The balls are said to represent the 11 apostles. At Saint Ignatius of Antioch the tradition is to have a twelfth ball for Mathias as the replacement for Judas on the top of the cake.
If you have a blowtorch, toast the top of marzipan on the top of the cake with your blow torch. You may also toast the marzipan in your broiler, but this can turn to catastrophe in an instant: if you leave it under the fire a second too long you’ll have a burnt crust on the top of your cake rather than a toasty treat.
Happy Mother’s Day!
I wrote a brief memoir post about my grandmother and the family connection to Saint Jacobi called Church and Family. I was hoping to find someone who had a picture of the dove from the mural painted over the altar. It worked. I was recently contacted by a former parishioner of Saint Jacobi, Pastor John Miller from Saint Andrew Evangelical Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. It’s been wonderful corresponding with him and sharing information and stories. He’s been a wealth of information, and provided me with some fantastic pictures. It’s inspired me to write a followup to Church and Family. For today, however, you’ll have to be satisfied whit this:
As it is Ascension it struck me that the altarpiece and mural from the old Saint Jacobi church building are a depiction of the Christ’s ascent. When we read about the Ascension of our Lord in the Gospel we read:
And he led them out as farre as to Bethanie, and hee lift vp his hands, and blessed them. And it came to passe, while hee blessed them, hee was parted from them, and caried vp into heauen. And they worshipped him, and returned to Hierusalem, with great ioy: And were continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
Pastor Miller describes the scene as depicted in the old Saint Jacobi like this:
…the mural of Jericho and Hebron with the angels is apparently an extension of the altar statue of the ascending Christ. How true: he ascended as our victorious Lord who paid for our sins and opened heaven for us, through whom our prayers are heard (Vater unser…). He is preparing places for us in heaven. When he comes to us through his gospel by the Holy Spirit (dove), we have a sort of heaven on earth. This is what his Church is all about. This idea was carried out in a most unique way in the St. Jacobi window design: all the symbols in the windows, of the Sacraments, and his church in glory, and the Luther rose, etc. were set in CLOUDS. I have never seen this in any other church. I never understood why those symbols looked so strange with those white and grey blobs around them. Then I read the dedication article, and it all came together. When our Lord comes to us with his forgiveness and righteousness, we have a heaven on earth, and anticipate being with our ascended Lord in glory. I have to think that Pastor Jenny, whose ideas of church art and architecture were represented in the old church, had a lot to do with tying together all those ideas. How wonderful when art and architecture confess and glorify the Savior-God who gives us our gifts and abilities!
I’ll be posting more pictures and information about Saint Jacobi, Grandpa Jenny, and church art and architecture soon. In the mean time please enjoy this hymn for Ascension: Alleluia! Sing to Jesus.
Where did he come from? What about the ermagerd girl? Who are they? Well, I came across a meme in which I knew every person in the picture. The caption I read said “WALK LIKE AN EPISCOPALIAN.” (I think it would have scanned better as WALK LIKE AN ALGLICAN, especially if the connection in the text was to the song Walk Like an Egyptian.)
The reason I know everyone in the picture is because it came from the web-site of the church I attend: Saint Ignatius of Antioch. It was taken by the Rector’s wife on our annual Beating of the Bounds on Rogation Sunday. Yesterday was Rogation Sunday and the beginning of Rogationtide.
I wrote about Rogation days last year in my posts Beating the Bounds and Why Christians Don’t Celebrate Earth Day. It’s interesting that some of the comments regarding this picture on the site on which i found this meme seemed to think it was a Palm Sunday procession. But look! Where are the palms? It is clearly not Palm Sunday, but it’s also not that surprising that people do not get the fact that it’s the Beating of the Bounds, as the duties of the parish priest no longer include marking the parish borders. Still it is quite a witness to walk in procession out the church doors into the community, marking and blessing the community and the little patch of earth for which the congregation acts as steward.
Do you know your meme?
I’m ending National Poetry Month as I began: with a seasonal rhyme from the annotated Mother Goose. I hope you’ve enjoyed having a poem a day for the month of April. In the works are posts about Rogation Day, some nonsensical musical interludes, and perhaps a post on Satanism, as well as some news on a Brooklyn arts group with which I’m involved: Shoestring Press.