October is always a memorable month, as is May when I recall the parochial school days at Saint Gabriel Parish School. It was Mary’s Month, and the school was festooned to reflect Marian Blue in all of the classrooms and hallways. The most favorite recollection is the magnificent decorations that decorated the Mary Altar within the Church itself. Draperies of blue velvet and gold silk, covered the great painting of the Annunciation of Saint Gabriel and focused all of the attention on the pristine white marble, larger than life representation of the Blessed Virgin. Of course, the penultimate factor was the sparkling diadem, with diamonds. The Marian Altar was transformed from the usual ancillary altar that balanced out the church with Saint Joseph on the other side, and became a monumental shrine devoted to Mary…just as important as Lourdes, Knock or Fatima for the multicultural parish of Saint Gabriel.

Throughout the years of grade school, we processed to the song, Immaculate Mary, accompanied by the booming organ and Sister Maureen Rose I.H.M. leading the singing. While we were not climbing the foreign pilgrimage sites of Saint Patrick’s Rock in distant Ireland, nor following the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem, we were indeed on a circular processional of pilgrimage honoring the Theotokos, the God Bearer and asking for Her Divine intercession with Her Son to the Eternal Father. Today, my thoughts of Mary as Theotokos are usually infused with a theological reflection or historical understanding of the Council of Ephesus; despite this my seminal faith is transported always back to my memories of processions and the Marian Altar at Saint Gabriel Church. Pragmatic and simple devotions are the touchstones that link us to our historical and theological past, present and future. What I now understand as kairotic time, was rooted in signs and symbols of Catholic devotions that transcended generations of faithful Catholics.

October, as Mary’s month had all of us gradeschool students carrying rosary beads, the boys, looping them through their belt loops and pacing the crucifix in their pockets, the girls, draping them in a similar manner in the waistbands of their uniform jumpers. Rarely do I see a Rosary when I watch the students at my daughter’s school of Saint John the Beloved in Pike Creek Delaware, seemingly the Rosary is viewed as an antiquated sacramental displaced by outlandish and incorrectly instructed notions what Saint Francis might say in a contemporary world.

Every day, the bells at Saint Gabriel Church tolled precisely at noon for the Angelus. We stopped, stood and prayed the prayer that commemorated the great moment of Christ’s Incarnation and prayed afterwards for the souls of the faithful (and not so faithful departed). Our parish doesn’t even ring the bells out of deference for the fear of ecumenical offense to neighboring denominations, let also recall the magnificence of the Incarnation. Our desire to experience God and to feel and in some manner see God depends strongly on all of our traditions of signs and symbols.

I personally always carry a Penal Rosary to remind me of the great persecutions my Irish forefathers endured both in Ireland and in the early days of the British colonies to pray and celebrate their faith. Additionally, I carry it to remind me of the unconditional faith and trust Mary must have felt as a frightened young girl that precipitated the Archangel Gabriel to first say to Her, “Non Phobia”, “Do not fear.” In recalling Gabriel’s exclamation at the Annunciation it allows me to also reaffirm a personal lack of fear, through Mary’s, “Fiat!” and the transformational magnificence of Christ Among Us, the Incarnation, that always brings me back to the refrain, “Immaculate Mary, Our Hearts are on fire.”, the same feeling Mary surely experienced at the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion and with the tongues of fire at Pentecost.

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….

constantly reminds of of the circular processions around a neo-Gothic Church in the inner city that I remember on a daily basis as the formational and foundational touchstone for my entire love and desire for Mary, Mother of God, the Church and each and every one of us,

Finally, find those rosaries and start putting them to good use, pray for the Church, past, present and future, It is really more enriching and fulfilling than transactional psychological analysis!

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that reflects on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Philadelphia’s Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. He is currently in an advanced theology & history degrees program at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. He writes daily at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com , http://catholicsacredarts.blogspot.com . Hugh writes on his Irish Catholic parochial experiences at  http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com.
He also contributes writings to The Irish Catholic, Dublin, British Broadcasting Company, and provides Catholic book reviews for multiple Catholic periodicals and publishers, including Vatican Publishing House.
Hugh lives in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley with his wife and daughter.
Hugh welcomes your comments via hjmn4@trinetconsultantsinc.com.

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