A Musing written on the occasion of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception (December 8) in September 2016 for Advent 3, 2022.
Yesterday was eventful. It began as usual with coffee. Following that, we took a walk to SS Annunziata, the church that celebrates Gabriel's
annunciation to Mary that she was to give birth to the Holy Child. We went to look at the frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries. Inside the church
are numerous paintings in a variety of chapels that are in serious need of repair and restoration. That is another story by itself. The church is next
to the foundling home next door.
It is a church dedicated, of course, to Mary the mother of Jesus. Outside on a kiosk we found a poster saying that there was to be a pilgrimage from a town outside Florence that would stop at S Felicita near the Ponte Vecchio and continue on to the very spot we were standing. The reason for the pilgrimage is the Immaculate Conception – what I am referring to as the “birthday” – of Mary.
I asked myself how did the Church fathers know the date of her birth? The answer is, it is traditional, and the tradition is made in stone, so
to speak (I just made that up.)
Last evening decided to go to S Felicita at eight to see what was up. We arrived at a church that was mostly empty but beautiful. There was lovely
organ music being played. Eight p.m. came and went: we were on Italian time. At about eight-twenty, people began coming into the church. A
large cross carried by pilgrims entered, and about a thousand people followed. By the time everyone had arrived, there was no space left anywhere. It was a standing-room-only crowd. After a few prayers and songs to Mary, the crowd began its march up to SS Annunziata.
Both Sarah and I got to the front of the queue and began parading with the masses. There was a brass band leading the way. Children carried homemade lanterns lit by candles. The crowds were singing along the way. We found ourselves caught up in the spirit and joy of the moment.
(Three yappy American girls tried to spoil it by talking about other people and their deficiencies. The most verbose girl repeatedly said the word
“like.” I elbowed her out of the way. I was going to say something snarky to them like, “You sick, shallow twits, shut-up!” But I refrained. I couldn’t
allow three girls to break the spell of the joy of the over 1,000 pilgrims who had walked a long way for this party.)
We walked on about half a mile with the singing and dancing crowd to the Palazzo Vecchio, which historically was the seat of the government of
Florence. There we saw the flag of Florence with a red lily on it. Another flag displayed the visage of Mary on it and then the cross.
I am commenting about this event not because I am Catholic, or even a believer in Catholic mythology, but because the Catholics win hands down when it comes to throwing a party. They go all out and their devotion to what they believe knows no bounds. I am not talking about their history of warfare to maintain a belief system and keep the populace in check, but about their ability to shed the misery of the daily grind and get down
and party. It could well be that maybe it is just Italian Catholics doing so, but as an old Protestant, I must say it was refreshing.
When I think of fine parades in the USA, I think of the St Patrick’s Day parades in Chicago, New York, and Savannah. I also think of Pride Fest. There is something in my spirit that wants to shed my serious (grim, even) Protestant background and party with no guilt whatsoever. I believe Pope
Francis with his year of Jubilee related to Misericordia has touched me deeply in the right way. I join my Catholic sisters and brothers celebrating the head of their church, paying more than lip service to the pain and suffering in the world. I hope the birthday of Mary helps me see others and her compassion for them. It is funny in a way that the only times I see Mary, she is holding a baby or weeping for her adult child dead on a cross.
This Sunday, December 11, we will celebrate Mary’s story, looking at the great inversion prophesied in Luke 1: 46b- 55 (the Magnificat). I’m certain that you will not want to miss it.