Thursday, March 27, 2008

Marian Praise, on the Annunciation and Lent

In the post "Annunciation, East and West," I briefly sketched some of the similarities between the prayers and hymns in the Eastern and canonical Western Rite Orthodox liturgies for that great feast. However, the similarities are not confined merely to the Divine Liturgy, nor even to a given feast. For instance, on the Feast of Annunciation, those in the Western Rite following the Benedictine (and AWRV) tradition of the Monastic Diurnal/Breviarium Monasticum sang the 8th century hymn Ave Maris Stella, the common hymn on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During this season of Lent, Orthodox Christians of the Byzantine tradition frequently sing the hymn "Awed By the Beauty," a verse in honor of the Theotokos clearly tied to the Annunciation. It is worthwhile to examine the two side-by-side as outstanding examples of Marian praise:

Western Rite
Byzantine Rite
Ave Maris Stella

Star of Ocean fairest,
Mother, God who bearest,
Virgin thou immortal,
heaven’s blissful portal,

“Ave” thou receivest,
Gabriel’s word believest,
change to peace and gladness
Eva’s name of sadness.

Loose the bonds of terror,
lighten blinded error,
All our ills repressing,
pray for every blessing,

Mother’s care displaying,
offer him thy praying,
who, when born our brother,
chose thee for his Mother.

Virgin all excelling,
gentle past our telling,
pardoned sinners - render
gentle, chaste, and tender.

In pure paths direct us,
on our way protect us,
till, on Jesus gazing,
we shall join thy praising.

Father, Son eternal,
Holy Ghost supernal,
with one praise we bless thee,
Three in One confess thee.
Awed By the Beauty

Awed by the beauty of thy virginity,
and the exceeding radiance of thy purity,
Gabriel stood amazed, and cried to thee, O Giver of Life:
What grace can I offer thee that is worthy of thy beauty?
By what name shall I call thee?
I am lost and bewildered,
But I shall greet thee as I was commanded.
Hail! Thou who art full of grace!

Both Eastern and Western Orthodox Christians are struck with awe at the Burning Bush that contained the Godhead yet was unconsumed. Both hymns acknowledge her innate sanctity, the beauty of her purity "all excelling, gentle past our telling." Ave Maris Stella features a more prominent supplication for our Mother's intercessions, as well as a concluding doxology to the Holy Trinity. Although the Latin tradition has been criticized as overly rational/logical/moralistic, the Western Rite also possesses, in its canonical integrity, a rich and tenderly poetic devotion. Together, the Church's two approved forms of devotion help us better venerate her through whom God appeared, and thus the Divine Himself.

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