Eucharistic celebration at Notre-Dame-du-Cap (Homily)
SEPTEMBER 10, 1984
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Blessed is she who believed!” (Lk 1,45).
These words were spoken to Mary of Nazareth by her relative Elizabeth on the occasion of the Visitation.
They are contained in the second salutation that Mary received. The first salutation was from the Angel at the Annunciation: “Rejoice, so highly-favoured! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1,28). These were the words spoken by Gabriel, the herald who was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth. At the time of Mary’s visit to the house of Zechariah, this greeting of the Angel finds in the mouth of Elizabeth its human complement: “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1,42).
This human greeting and that of the Angel to Mary are blessed with the same light. Both are the Word of God in the mouths of the Archangel and of Elizabeth.
Together they form a harmonious whole. Both have become our prayer to the Mother of God, the prayer of the Church. “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” (Lk 1,43).
Elizabeth is the first to profess the faith of the Church: Mother of my Lord, Mother of God, Theotokos!
“Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled!” (Lk 1,45).
Today, Elizabeth’s words to Mary at the Visitation are repeated by the whole Church.
By these words, the entire Church blesses God himself above all. “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 P 1,3).
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is the Son. He is of the same nature as the Father. He was made man by the work of the Holy Spirit. He became incarnate at the Annunciation in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth and he was born from her as a true man. He is God made man.
Concretely, this took place in Mary at the time of the Annunciation by the Angel. And she was the first to believe in this mystery. She believed in God himself on the word of the Angel. She said “fiat”, let what you have said be done to me! “I am the handmaid of the Lord”.
And so it was.
When the Church blesses and gives thanks to God, the Father of Jesus Christ, with the words of the first letter of Peter, it also blesses the “fiat” of Mary, the handmaid of the Lord.
With these words of Peter the Apostle, the Church is united with Mary in her faith.
“Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for you in the heavens. Through your faith, God’s power will guard you until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the end of time (1 P 1,3-5).
This is the faith of the Church and the hope of the Church but, above all, it is the faith of Mary. She has her part, a most eminent part, in the faith and hope of the Church. She believed before all others and better than all others. She believed before the apostles. Although his relatives did not believe in Jesus (Jn 7,5), and although the crowds had more enthusiasm than faith, she was unshakable in her faith.
Mary is the primordial model for the Church as it makes its way along the path of faith, hope and charity. At the end of the constitution on the Church, Vatican II stated: “The Mother of God is the model of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ… It is in faith and in obedience that she brought the Son of the Father to earth… like a new Eve who believed, not in the serpent, but in the messenger of God with an unwavering faith. She gave birth to her Son, whom God made the first born among many brethren (Rm 8,29), that is, the faithful, whose birth and upbringing benefit from her maternal love” (Lumen Gentium, No. 63).
“Blessed is she who believed…”
These words, spoken by Elizabeth, which the whole Church has made its own, are being repeated by us today at the shrine of Notre-Dame-du-Cap on Canadian soil.
The Church on earth rejoices in professing here in this place, its participation in Mary’s faith.
With the whole universal Church, the Canadian Church thanks Mary for having helped it to build the faith of the people of God over many generations.
Yes, once the witness of Catholic faith was brought to Canada and shared by the people, the Virgin Mary played an important part in their adhesion to Jesus, the Saviour, the Word made flesh in her, and in the growth of this believing nation. The founders of this Church were people of great faith, consecrated to Our Lady. It could not have been otherwise. It is the same in every country. You know that my compatriots in Poland have experienced this very profoundly. We are talking about a devotion that is firmly anchored in the hearts of the Christian people, in their daily prayers, in their families and in their parishes. It becomes concrete by the building of important Marian shrines where the faithful come on pilgrimage and where the Virgin herself shows her tenderness and her powerful intercession in a special way.
Dear brothers and sisters, that happened here and I am sure you all know the story. I mention it because I, myself, was quite touched by it. In 1651, Abbé Jacques de la Ferte, the pastor of Sainte-Madeleine de Châteaudun in France, donated this part of the Cape to the Jesuit missionaries. Not long afterwards, on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary, they founded a village on this site. Marian devotion became so important in the parish, which they named Cap-de-la-Madeleine, that a Congregation of the Holy Rosary established itself here before the end of the 17th century. Thus in 1714, the shrine was built and it became the national Marian shrine and the oldest church in Canada. But tradition recounts some even more moving facts.
In 1879, the parishioners of Cap-de-la-Madeleine prayed to the Virgin Mary and worked with incredible courage all winter long transporting stones for the construction of the new Marian building. To do so they made use of a providential ice-bridge that had formed on the St. Lawrence known subsequently as the bridge of the rosaries. This was a sign from the Virgin that she approved this initiative. These facts, dear brothers and sisters, attest admirably to the faith of your forebears to their clear understanding of the role of Mary in the Church. Since that time, the same Marian piety has brought thousands of pilgrims from all over Canada to seek faith and courage from their Mother! People of all ages and backgrounds; especially the humble and the poor; young families and elderly couples; parents concerned about their children’s upbringing; youth, people seeking the one who is “the way, the truth and the life”; the sick in search of strength and hope; missionaries who came to consecrate their difficult apostolate to the Queen of the Apostles; all those seeking new vigor to serve the Lord, the Church and their brothers and sisters, just as Mary visited Elizabeth.
These pilgrimages bring us “heavenly hours”, as some call them, in the joy of faith with Mary; far from allowing us to escape our daily tasks, they give us renewed strength to live the Gospel today while assisting us to cross to the other shore of life where Mary “already shines as a symbol of assured hope and consolation before the people of God on pilgrimage” (Lumen Gentium, No. 68).
Yes, this Marian pilgrimage remains as a great gift to the Canadian people. May the stream of the faithful who come to pray here never run dry! May this Basilica, which you have recently rebuilt and extended, this church dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, be often filled! It is with satisfaction that I think of the twelve thousand primary school students in Canada who came here to prepare for my visit. I have received their messages and I thank them. I congratulate them. I say to them: with Mary, build the Church of Canada.
I, myself, so anxious to mark each one of my pastoral visits abroad by a pilgrimage to a great Marian sanctuary am moved and touched to find myself a pilgrim of Mary in this place and to entrust my apostolic mission and the fidelity of all the Christian people in Canada to our Mother.
Today, we come to the shrine of Notre-Dame-du-Cap as people of our own time.
We have come to pray with the Bishop of Trois-Rivières, his Excellency Laurent Noel, with the members of his diocese and with those who have come from the whole region to this Marian shrine.
We have come to repeat the words of Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1,45).
We have come to ratify the participation of past generations in the faith of the Mother of God. In the beautiful heritage which you received and which has made you what you are, faith was primordial. Devotion to Mary, to which your predecessors dedicated themselves, was essential for their loyalty to that faith.
We have come to transfer in some sense that faith into the hearts of our generation and of future generations.
The words spoken by God to Mary were fulfilled. That fulfillment is called Jesus Christ.
When the risen Christ appeared before the apostles after the passion, one of them, Thomas, who had been absent at the time, did not want to believe. A week later, he saw Christ and proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20,28). And he heard the Master say to him: “You believe because you see. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20,29).
And you, dear brothers and sisters, “you did not see him, yet you love him; and you believe in him still without seeing him, …” (1 P 1:8). Mary, the Mother of Christ is there to help you in this faith. She was the first to believe! She will lead you to him!
Let us pray now for our generation, so that future generations may share the faith of the Mother of God.
This faith will help you to bear the suffering and pain of life, it will help you to persevere with hope even in the midst of “all sorts of trials”. Even more, these “trials will test your faith which is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire” (1 P 1:7).
Let us pray that our generation may have lucid and mature faith, unfailing faith! May this faith be a sharing in the faith of Mary who stood at the foot of her son’s Cross on Calvary.
Was not Mary’s great trial to see her son rejected and condemned to death by the leaders of his people? She persevered to the end. She shared it all. She was united to Jesus who gave his life to save the world… And we, when we feel God is far away, when we do not understand his ways, when the cross hurts our shoulders and our heart, when we suffer for our faith, let us learn from our Mother about steadfastness of faith in every trial, let us learn how to find strength and courage in our unconditional commitment to Jesus Christ.
It was at the cross that Mary was able to repeat in a special way the words of the Magnificat: “He has looked upon his humble servant” (Lk 1,48).
Mary’s humility is joined in a saving union with the stripping of the garments of the crucified Son!
The whole Church, seeing Mary at the foot of the Cross, rejoices “blessed is she who has believed…”. And in that faith of Mary’s at the foot of the Cross there appears as it were the first light of the Easter dawn.
The cross and the resurrection are joined in one mystery: the Paschal mystery.
The Church 1ives this mystery from day to day.
The Church meditates on this mystery in prayer and, here, the prayer of the rosary takes on its importance. It is with Mary, to the rhythm of the angelic salutation, that we enter the whole mystery of her Son, who was made flesh, died and rose from the dead for us. In a shrine likeNotre-Dame-du-Cap, but also in the life of each Christian, each family, this Marian prayer should be like daily breath.
The Church meditates, but it also celebrates the ineffable Paschal mystery in the eucharist every day. Surely, this is the high point of our assembly this evening: with Mary, we approach the source, we are united with her Son’s sacrifice, we are nourished by his life; “The Mystery of faith!”.
And day after day the Church expresses her overflowing joy before this Mystery by drawing out its secret from the heart of the Mother of Christ at the moment in which she sings the “Magnificat”:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name…” (Lk 1:46, 49).
We learn from Mary the secret of the joy which comes from faith, in order to enlighten with it our lives and the lives of others. The Gospel of the Visitation is full of joy: the joy of being visited by God, the joy of opening the doors to the Redeemer. This joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and no one can take it from us if we remain faithful to him.
Holy Mother! Our Lady of the Cape!
May the Church on Canadian soil always take strength in the Paschal mystery of Christ!
May it take strength from your Magnificat!
The Almighty has truly done great things for us.
Blessed is His name!