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Melto D’Moronoyo: Mary in the Maronite Church

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Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay led a memorial Mass last Saturday for the victims of the explosion in the Port of Beirut on 4 August. Photo: Patrick J Lee
Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay led a memorial Mass last Saturday for the victims of the explosion in the Port of Beirut on 4 August. Photo: Patrick J Lee

By Salwa Elias 

In the eyes of Catholics outside the Maronite Church, we display a characteristic worthy of admiration – a devout people driven by our passion for the faith and for the Blessed Mother.

This passion may have its source in the maternal aspect of our community and family life, where “the mother is the heart” of the family, just as Mary is the heart of the Church.

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The Maronite Divine Liturgy is another powerful force directing our devotion and faith commitment.

The Qorbono – the Maronite Divine Liturgy of the Mass which remains almost identical to the first Mass celebrated in Antioch – perfectly sums up the Universal Church’s veneration of the Blessed Mother within the context of Christ’s redemptive offering re-presented on the Altar.

“Of the Virgin Mary I was born, taking flesh as man; as good earth receives a seed, her womb received me.”

It was through Mary’s free and generous obedience, that mankind has been redeemed.

“I am the Bread of Life. From the Father I was sent as Word without flesh to give new life. Of the Virgin Mary I was born, taking flesh as man; as good earth receives a seed, her womb received me. Priestly hands now lift me high above the altars” (Maronite Liturgy of the Mass).

Therefore, it’s no wonder that our Maronite churches and homes display images and icons of the Virgin Mary, to remind us of the offering and sacrifice she endured for our sake, in God’s Plan of Salvation.

In the Syriac Rabbula Gospel icon for Pentecost, we see the inclusion of Mary in a prominent position. Image: courtesy of Maronite Diocese of Australia.

Throughout history the Maronites have experienced God’s protection through their veneration of Mary in a special way.

When isolated in the arid mountains of Lebanon, cut off from the rest of the world, Mary was with them in prayer.

When persecuted for the sake of their faith, Mary was there and remains there to strengthen and to console. When divided by war and politics, Mary is there to reunite.

When the Maronites were oppressed in war, Mary was there to ease the pain of the martyrs and faithful.

“Not only was the Virgin Mary always present in a spiritual way, but she was actually present in the land of the Cedars when she visited Cana & Sidon according to Scripture.”

When the whole world abandoned the Maronites leaving them at the mercy of their enemies, Mary was there, under the cross of our people and at the moment of death.

Not only was the Virgin Mary always present in a spiritual way, but she was actually present in the land of the Cedars when she visited Cana & Sidon according to Scripture. We rightly honour and invoke her in our Litany: “O Cedar of Lebanon, pray for us.”

Maronites have a strong community focus on family unity, and the Virgin Mary provides us with a Mother who cares unconditionally for her children.

An icon of Our Lady of Ilige (il-eej), also known as Our Lady of the Maronites and the Maornite Patriarchal icon.
This uniquely Syriac inspired Maronite art that is more than 1000 years old, and was the Maronite Patriarch’s personal icon. It has travelled with generations of Patriarchs, wherever Maronites moved to flee persecution. The icon is given its name following its discovery in the Church of Our Lady of Ilige (Mayfouq, Jbeil district, Lebanon), which had been the refuge and home of the Maronite Patriarchs from the 12th-15th Century.

This confidence in her intercession has been witnessed throughout history, and it is upon her example that we have built our morals and values to the present day:

“From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s Will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ her Son and the Son of God.” (Pope Saint John Paul the Great).

This is where our hope is nourished also, in knowing that as a community, as one family in the Blessed Trinity, we can overcome any and all obstacles, facing any fear or uncertainty, with God on our side.

Our Divine Liturgy will attest that this remarkably strong devotion to our Blessed Mother has only built an unbreakable bond with the Universal Church, developing this undying faith, hope and love within our hearts and our families.

“It’s this conviction of faith that has kept Maronites inside their parishes, within the shelter of the sacraments, under the mantle of their Mother who unites the family, until we reach our eternal home.”

This devotion has strengthened the foundations upon which our faith firmly stands, the faith which has overcome exile, persecution, and even martyrdom.

It’s this conviction of faith that has kept Maronites inside their parishes, within the shelter of the sacraments, under the mantle of their Mother who unites the family, until we reach our eternal home.

“United we stand, divided we fall” … this fidelity to Mother Church is the source of Maronite unity and continued growth, in perseverance and love.

Salwa Elias is a member of the Maronite Catholic Church and is the EWTN producer for Australia and New Zealand

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