Sailors especially and boaters in general know the difference between an anchor and a mooring. When a boat wishes to spend a quiet night away from a dock, there can be two options. The first is throwing out an anchor, a heavy and strong hook, which finds a soft spot in a sandy bottom, digs in and allows the occupants of the attached boat a quiet night’s rest with few worries about drifting unexpectedly into harm’s way. A mooring is a line attached usually to a concrete block set into place on the lake or ocean’s bottom whose top is attached to a boat. It is a help for security and if the line can be trusted, a mooring offers a good night’s sleep to those on board. For the Christian, Jesus Christ is the anchor and he is often shown in what appears to be hieroglyphics as an “anchor.” Attached to him we have stability, confidence, and hope. Mary is more of a mooring to which we attach our lives when the anchor seems some how out of reach. She and the saints to whom we also pray for help and assistance keep us attached to the bottom which is our faith.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in two events which show how much the Blessed Mother can play a meaningful role in keeping us firmly attached to her Son. September 8, 2012 is the Feast of the Nativity (Birth) of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but for Cuban Catholics it is also the traditional day when they celebrate their patronal feast of la Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre (known as Our Lady of Charity in English). This day celebrates when Our Lady was seen by Cuban fishermen off the east coast of the island, holding her Son Jesus while rescuing the distressed.
This year was the four-hundredth anniversary of that apparition and over 1,500 Cuban Catholics gathered last Saturday night at Incarnation Catholic Church in Tampa for a wonderful Eucharistic celebration. I’ve included a few photos below and more can be found by clicking here.
Through the recent challenging times of the last fifty-some years in Cuba, Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre has been a mooring for Cuban Catholics. When the Castro government attempted to all but shut out the Catholic faith, Our Lady was the “go to” person in prayers to her Son to keep the faith alive on that island and among the exile community and Cubans who have chosen to immigrate to other countries. The music was wonderful and while the homily was slightly over fifty minutes in length (not given by me, mind you), this annual occasion to acknowledge the role of the great woman of charity and love was a “not-to-be-missed” moment in the life of our local Church. I loved being a part of it.
The next morning (Sunday) I attended and preached at a Mass at St. Joseph’s Syro-Malabar parish in east Hillsborough county where their community of some 150 families gathered to also celebrate (a day later but allowed in their Rite) the same Feast of the Birth of Mary. Father George Malakial, a priest of the Syro-Malabar diocese of Chicago, was the principal celebrant of a lovely liturgy celebrated in the language of the Indian state of Kerala. Here is a photo from after the Mass, taken by Babu Thomas and graciously shared with us by Rajeev Phillip, a Syro-Malabar seminarian from the parish. More photos, taken by Shaji Joseph, can be seen by clicking here.
There are a number of “rites” in the Church which recognize the primacy of the Roman Pontiff who chooses their bishops. Perhaps the better known to the average Latin Rite Catholic would be the Byzantine Rite (Greeks and Turks mainly), the Maronite Rite (Lebanese and Syrian), the Melkite Rite (Syrian and Iraqi), and the Ukrainian Rite (Central and East European people). The Syro-Malabars trace their faith lineage to the Apostle Thomas who is known to have spent time in southern India. For we Latin Rite Catholics, the only part of their celebration of Eucharist which we would be likely to immediately recognize would be the elevation of the bread and wine at the words of Institution, the greeting of peace which occurs much earlier in their liturgy than in ours, and the communion rite which is like ours. The “Our Father” was prayed in English and the three readings were proclaimed in English and, no surprise, I preached on the Blessed Mother in English. There was a beauty to the liturgy, however, and though it was long (I was assured it was a “Low Mass” and therefore short – it lasted about one hour and forty-five minutes just for the liturgy), it was a second affirmation by a segment of the Church Universal of Mary as a “Mooring” and Christ as an “anchor.” There was a first communion which I was asked to do. Saint Joseph’s recently purchased a former Korean Church for their home and they have converted it to their many needs quite impressively. The liturgy was followed by a lunch which almost everyone stayed for. Congratulations to Father George and to his community.
I close with this thought. It probably is the Church of the East which is responsible, thank the Lord, for keeping the role and place of the Blessed Mother alive in the Church universal. For that we should all be grateful when at a stormy moment we are searching for a mooring in the safe harbor of our faith.