BY: Ben Agbo (Rev Fr)


HOMILY: * Is 11:1 – 10, Eph 2: 13 – 22, Matt 2:13-23.

I don’t know what people call ‘idolatory’ these days. But for me, the celebration of a saint like Mary, acclaimed by both God & man as holy, can never mean ‘idolatory’. If ‘Ave Maria’ were not in the bible, I may not be a Catholic today. If I am not convinced that all the honour Catholics give to Mary go directly to Jesus raised to power 2, I would have left the Roman Catholic Church by now. So, please permit me to talk about Mary today on this special day of the Feast of the Independence of Nigeria. I want to say a little about why the Universal Catholic Church Liturgy celebrates with Mary on every new year & why the Nigerian Church follows suite to celebrate with her on every 1st day of Octover which is Nigeria’s Independence day.

I counted a total of 12 liturgical feasts of Mary in just 1 liturgical year:
1. Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 21st November.
2. Immaculate Conception – 8th December.
3. Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – 1st January.
4. Our Lady, Mother of Africa – 30th April.
5. Our Lady of Fatima – 13th May.
6. Immaculate Heart of Mary – 13th June.
7. Our Lady of Mount Carmel – 16th July.
8. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary -15th August.
9. Queenship of Mary – 22nd August.
10. Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary – 8th September.
11. Our Lady of Sorrows – 15th September.
12. Our Lady, Queen & Patroness of Nigeria – 1st October.
Why does the church give all these attention to Mary? The reason is simple; the more we understand Jesus as King of kings, the more we see His mother as Queen of queens.

Permit me just to highlight briefly what Angel Gabriel, the leader of the heavenly crew of journalists – members of the 4th estate of the realm, said about Mary. Gabriel announced that Mary’s son would receive the throne of David & rule for ever, Lk 1:26-34. As recorded in today’s gospel, that angel came on duty over 6 times to both Mary & Joseph just to protect the Son of God, Lord of lords & King of kings, Matt 2:13-23, Lk 1:26-46. There is a latent emphasis on a ‘Virgin bethrothed to an old man named Joseph & the Virgin’s name was Mary’. The Old testament prophesy reads: ‘A Virgin shall conceive & bear a son & His name shall be called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace’, Is 7:15, 9:6. At the visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary for the 1st time in history ‘Mother of My Lord’, Lk 1:42. As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus; Her Queenship is a share in Jesus’ Kingship because right from the Old testament, the mother of the King had great influence in court as Queen mother.

In the 4th century (take note that this happened after the collation/ canonization of the holy scriptures in the 2nd & 3rd centuries), St Ephraim 1st called her ‘Lady’ and ‘Queen’. Later Church Fathers & Doctors continued to use the title as can be seen from Marian hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries, example, ‘Hail, Holy Queen’, ‘Hail, Queen of Heaven’, etc. The mysteries of the holy rosary came out clear during the time of St Dominic at the battle of Lepato around the 16th centuries followed by protestant revolts & all what not. I am only interested in how the Universal Church saw Mary long before the political & doctrinal quarrels that tore us apart. She was unilaterally acclaimed as Queen & Mother of the Church. Most of the Marian celebrations we have today are only but recent emphasis of old realities. For example, the fact that Pope Pius XI in 1931 established the Solemnity of Mary as Mother of God is not new to the church. The ‘theotokos’ argument was concluded long ago after the Nestorian heresy of the 5th century. The origin of the scapular devotion by the Order of the Discalced Camelites was a 13th century event under Pope Eugene IV who established the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The case of Our Lady of Fatima came as a result of Our Lady’s clear interventions during the 1st World War in 1917. Immaculate Conception celebration was promulgated in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, etc. Yet these were old theological realities accepted far back by the fathers & embedded in the same church traditions that produced the scriptures long before the protestant revolutions that had little or nothing to do with Mariology.

Today, as we celebrate our 61st Independence anniversary as a country, let us celebrate in faith 3 areas of independence even if we are yet to see them manifest in Nigeria;
1. Religious independence; freedom from the slavery of idolatory & false beliefs. Most importantly, let our faith (old or new) not continue to enslave us. Let us have an open ear to other people’s religious viewpoints.
2. Economic independence; freedom from Western economic enslavements, excessive dependence on oil wealth, freedom from undue annexation of the Country’s wealth by a few privileged tribe or political class, freedom from the menace of poverty as a result of the massive unemployment of our Youths, etc.
3. Moral independence; freedom to do good & fight corruption at all pedestals of the society; civil & ecclesiastical. May Mary, the Mother of Africa & the Queen & Patroness of Nigeria pray for us to become truly independent!

Have a nice Independence day celebration!

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