Week 3: Mother of the Incarnate Word
And The Holy Spirit Overshadowing the Mother of God


"Divine Spirit, renew your wonders in this our age as in a new Pentecost, and grant that your Church, praying perseveringly and insistently with one heart and mind together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and guided by blessed Peter, may increase the reign of the Divine Savior, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

This prayer of Pope John XXIII used in convoking the Second Vatican Council gives a prophetic vision of the new Pentecost in the Church, expressing it in capsule form. It serves as a battle cry in this time of spiritual warfare for the coming of the Kingdom.

Enclosed and hidden, you are a garden,
A still pool, a fountain…
Living water, you are a fountain,
A well, a river flowing from the mountains.
Come, north winds and south winds!
Breathe upon my garden.

From chapter 4 Song of Songs
Translation by Marcia Falk

On the 11th of October there is a feast entitled The Maternity of the Mother of God. After living with this icon, the feast has become boundless for me and I now anticipate it's coming and celebrate the pregnancy of the Mother of God with great joy. When I was painting the Black Madonna: Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table, I consulted many books but the two which nourished me most were China Galland's beautiful pilgrimage called Longing For Darkness and The Cult of The Black Virgin by Ean Begg. In his study of the love of black Madonnas, Begg finds that darkness is so appealing because it represents darkness in the womb, or pregnancy. This is a dramatic reversal, as with the Sermon on the Mount reversing what was felt to be curses into blessings. This is a reversal of darkness seen as emptiness, depression, or the absurdity so familiar to the Existentialist philosophers of the past century. This is a darkness like the primal blackness of Genesis. A darkness that is filled with the silent beginnings of new life that cannot yet be seen.

The first icon, "Mother of the Incarnate Word" was commissioned by a Jesuit friend who at that time was a scholastic studying theology. He wanted an icon for his community that would represent the study and prayer of a theology student. As he told me his ideas an image came to mind. I had read an amazing book out of St. Herman of Alaska Press about a contemporary Russian Eldress and great mystic. The book called Beloved Sufferer is the life of Mother Macaria. In the west we say that someone like St. Gemma or St. Padre Pio are victim souls or have a heavy cross to bear. In Russia they call this cross a "podvig." This book (like Sister Diana Ortiz's auto - biography, 'The Blindfolds Eyes') illumines the life of one bearing an almost impossible podvig and is very difficult to read. But as with all Passions born in communion with Christ, it finally blooms into a flowering cross. The author is Mother Macaria's spiritual son and he tells of several meetings of Macaria with the Blessed Mother whom she calls "the Sovereign Lady" and the "Heavenly Queen." Printed in black and white within, is the most childlike image of the young Mother of God called the Kaluga icon. Mary looks no older than 15. She is holding a book in one hand, wrapped in meditation of the Word, and the other hand is over her breast as if she is touching a pounding heart. I chose, when I copied the icon, to add her pregnancy to complete the symbolic representation of the vocation of the student of theology. This vocation is put so beautifully in the motto of the Dominicans: "Contemplata aliis tradere." To share what you have contemplated. The Mother holds the Word within and without. This is also the vocation of the sacred artist and iconographer who in the eastern tradition is called to be a theologian; thus the ancient tradition of saying that you "write" an icon. And this is an image or icon of each and every Christian who meditates on the Word in scripture and also has the Word inside her or him.

The other gift given to me during the time with this icon was to ponder Mary's relationship to the Father; that the Father was her life and prayer before she knew the Son. This sort of left me motionless for a long time, just imagining. I was gradually deeply aware that the icon pictures this prayer and relationship with the Father. In one of the most creative and visual meditations in the second week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius asks the retreatant to see the Holy Trinity looking down upon the world and all of humanity. They decide to send the second person to the humble child Mary. With all the photographs now available of the jewel-like blue planet, one can now enter this meditation visualizing the Trinity encircling the Earth with the fire of love and sending Archangel Gabriel to the child in the Kaluga icon. Although this is not in the Gospel, Ignatius is always desirous to share what he has been given, to bring the retreatant into direct contact with the Mystery. I turn again to Venerable Catherine Emmerich to share the vision of the Holy Spirit overshadowing of the Mother of God:

I saw her fervently praying thus for a long time, with her face raised to heaven. She was imploring God for redemption, for the promised King, and beseeching Him that her prayer might have some share in sending Him. She knelt long in an ecstasy of prayer; then bowed her head on to her breast.
But now at her right hand there poured down such a mass of light in a slanting line from the ceiling of the room that I felt myself pressed back by it against the wall near the door. I saw in this light a shining white youth, with flowing yellow hair, floating down before her. It was the Angel Gabriel. He gently moved his arms away from his body as he spoke to her. I saw the words issuing from his mouth like shining letters; I read them and I heard them. Mary turned her veiled head slightly towards the right, but she was shy and did not look up. But the angel went on speaking, and as if at his command Mary turned her face a little towards him, raised her veil slightly, and answered. The angel again spoke and Mary lifted her veil, looked at him and answered with the holy words: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.'

The Blessed Virgin was wrapped in ecstasy. The room was filled with light; I no longer saw the glimmer of the burning lamp, I no longer saw the ceiling of the room. Heaven seemed to open, a path of light made me look up above the angel, and at the source of this stream of light I saw a figure of the Holy Trinity in the form of a triangular radiance streaming in upon itself. In this I recognized-what can only be adored and never expressed-Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and yet only God Almighty.

As soon as the Blessed Virgin had spoken the words, 'Be it done unto me according to thy word', I saw the Holy Ghost in the appearance of a winged figure, but not in the form of a dove as usually represented. The head was like the face of a man, and light was spread like wings beside the figure, from whose breast and hands I saw three streams of light pouring down towards the right side of the Blessed Virgin and meeting as they reached her. This light streaming in upon her right side caused the Blessed Virgin to become completely transfused with radiance and as though transparent; all that was opaque seemed to vanish like darkness before this light. In this moment she was so penetrated with light that nothing dark or concealing remained in her; her whole form was shining and transfused with light. After this penetrating radiance I saw the angel disappear, with the path of light out of which he had come.

After the angel had disappeared, I saw the Blessed Virgin wrapped in the deepest ecstasy. I saw that she recognized the Incarnation of the promised Redeemer within herself in the form of a tiny human figure of light, perfectly formed in all its parts down to its tiny fingers.

Here in Nazareth it is otherwise than in Jerusalem, where the women must remain in the outer court and may not enter the Temple, where only the priests may go into the Holy Place. Here in Nazareth, here in this church, a virgin is herself the Temple, and the Most Holy is within her, and the high priest is within her, and she alone is with Him. Oh, how lovely and wonderful that is, and yet so simple and natural! The words of David in the 45th Psalm were fulfilled: 'The Most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle; God is in the midst thereof, it shall not be moved.'

If the First Advent is represented by the Mother of God as Ark of the Covenant, Tabernacle, pregnant with the Word Incarnate, the Second Advent is suggested by the Mother as Ark, Tabernacle and Cenacle. A cenacle may be a convention or congregation or it can be two people in a tiny room praying together. The Second Advent pushes us into a cenacle with all the force of the Spirit pushing Jesus into the desert. This is the heart of all the Marian apparitions to Catherine Laboure˘, Bernadette, Lucia, Francisco, Jacinta as well as the visits to Pontmain, Pellovosin, La Salette, and the exquisite silent tableaux presented to the poor in Knock.

The icon of the "The Holy Spirit overshadowing the Mother of God" was commissioned by another Jesuit friend for the chapel of the Holy Spirit at Weston School of Theology, again in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For me it became the gentle but insistent transition from First to Second Advent in visible form. This is the Mother of God as Cenacle absorbed in the Song of Songs as the Spirit overshadows her. It is also the image of all of us, at this time, now, called to enter into some kind of cenacle with those we love, and to pray for those we cannot yet love, to pray with the waiting Mother for the coming of the Holy Spirit which will open people to receive the Returning Christ.

This prayer and movement has ancient roots going back to the First Pentecost, but it is wondrous to see its lovely unfolding in the past century:

Between 1895 and1903, Blessed Sister Elena Guerra, foundress of the Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Italy, wrote twelve confidential letters to Pope Leo XIII asking that he foster devotion to the Holy Spirit so that the Church might be transformed into a praying and universal Cenacle… Pope Leo, recognizing the authenticity of her mission, responded by the publication of Provida Matris Caritate asking for a solemn novena to the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost to be celebrated by the whole Church. In 1897, he published his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum illud munus, again prescribing the celebration of the novena for Pentecost in all parish churches of the world. Unfortunately, the response to the novena was poor… The call of Pope Leo XIII to beseech the Holy Spirit was picked up explicitly by Pope John XXIII in April, 1959, on the occasion of the beatification of Sister Elena Guerra, whom he called "the Apostle of the Holy Spirit." In addressing the pilgrims of her hometown he said, " Her message is always relevant. We are all aware, in fact, of the need for a continued effusion of the Holy Spirit, as of a new Pentecost." On the occasion of convoking the Second Vatican Council, Pope John once again took up this theme, praying, "Divine Spirit, renew your wonders in this our age, as in a new Pentecost…"2

On the first occasion the invitation extended through Pope Leo XIII received an inadequate response from the Bride. On the second occasion the invitation extended through Pope John XXIII has not yet received a full response from the Bride. We pointed out that the Catholic charismatic renewal has provided the Bride with a "sneak preview" of the new Pentecost. But much more is needed. The bride, that is, the whole Church, must cry out together with the Spirit, "Come!" To do this she must be purified on Calvary. In this purification Mary will be not only the model of what the Bride is to become, but also the mother, guiding the Church with her maternal care through Calvary to the Cenacle in preparation for the new Pentecost.

Pope John Paul II on December 11, 1979, met with 13 leaders of the catholic charismatic renewal representing the council of the International Communications Office (ICO). Concerning the charismatic renewal, the Pope said, "I am convinced that this movement is a very important component of the entire renewal of the Church."

Pope John Paul II told the group that since he was 12 or 13 years old, he has daily said a prayer to the Holy Spirit in a prayer book his father gave him, The Spirit and the Bride say Come, Mary's Role in the New Pentecost by Gerald J. Farrel, M.M. & George W. Kosicki, C.S.B. 1981.

The final words of these meditations are said to have come from the Mother of God herself to Father Stefano Gobbi in December of 1997.
You are living out the mystery of this Second Advent, which is preparing you to receive Jesus, when he returns to you on the clouds of heaven.
Only then will the second Advent through which you are living reach its fulfillment.
Then time will attain its fullness.
Then will the Immaculate Heart of your heavenly Mother attain her triumph, in the definitive and glorious triumph of her son Jesus.

Enter with me in to the fullness of time and prepare yourselves to live the Great Jubilee, for which my Pope is preparing you, which will cause the ineffable light of the Divine and Most Holy Trinity to come down upon the world.

This century of yours, which is about to end, has been placed under the sign of a strong power conceded to my adversary. Thus, humanity has been led astray be the error of theoretical and practical atheism; in the place of God, idols have been built which everyone adores: pleasure, money, amusement, power, pride and impurity.

Truly Satan, with the cup of lust, has succeeded in seducing all the nations of earth. He has replaced love with hatred; communion with division; justice with many injustices; peace with continuous war. In fact, this entire century has been spent under the sign of cruel and bloody wars, which have claimed millions of innocent victims.

So then the most Holy Trinity has decreed that your century be placed under the sign of my powerful, maternal and extraordinary presence. Thus, at Fatima, I pointed out the way along which humanity must journey for its return to the Lord: that of conversion, prayer and penance. And as a safe refuge, I offered you my Immaculate Heart.

I have announced to you the triumph of my Immaculate Heart in this world. In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.

This will come about in the greatest triumph of Jesus, who will bring into the world glorious reign of love, of justice and of peace, and will make all things new…

Open your hearts to hope.
Throw open the doors to Christ who comes to you in glory.
Live the trembling hour of this Second Advent.
Become thus the courageous heralds of this, his triumph, because you - little babes consecrated to me who live from my very own spirit - are the apostles of these last times.
Live as faithful disciples of Jesus, in contempt for the world and for yourselves, in poverty, in humility, in silence, in prayer, in mortification, in charity and in union with God, while you are unknown and despised by the world.

The moment has come for you to come out from your hidings in order to go and shed light upon the earth.

Show yourselves to all as my children for I am with you always. Let the faith be the light, which enlightens you in these days of darkness, and let the zeal alone consume you, zeal for the honor and glory of my Son Jesus.

Fight, children of the light, because the hour of my battle has now arrived. In the harshest of winters, you are the buds which are opening up from my Immaculate Heart and which I am placing on the branches of the church, to tell you that her most beautiful springtime is about to arrive.

This will be for her a second Pentecost. For this reason, I invite you to repeat often in the cenacles, the prayer that I have asked of you: 'Come, Holy Spirit, come be means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well-beloved spouse.'

With the love of a Mother who, during these years, has been listened to, followed and glorified by you, I bless you all in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


"To the Priests, our Lady's Beloved Sons" 1997 Supplement to the 17TH English Edition of 'Pro manuscripto'

November 2002
Father William Hart Dominic McNichols

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