December 10: Our Lady of Loreto

Optional Memorial; Liturgical color: white
Patron Saint of air crews and builders


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When Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Mt 7:24), He likely had a specific house in mind—His own house in Nazareth where He grew up. The footings of many of Nazareth’s houses are lodged, even today, into the dense bed of rock that lies under much of the town. Ancient tradition holds that the Virgin Mary was raised in Nazareth, was visited by the Archangel Gabriel in her home there, and then lived in that same home with her husband, Joseph, and her son, Jesus. Jesus would leave Nazareth as an adult for the larger, more cosmopolitan town of Capernaum, about one day away by foot, but He was always identified with His hometown.

The Holy Family’s house in Nazareth has a complicated and obscure history. What is known is that the knights of the First Crusade took control of Galilee in 1099 and made Nazareth their capital. The Italian Angeli family began to reconstruct the Holy Family’s house when a Muslim army won a key battle in 1187 near Nazareth, forcing all the Europeans to flee. The Angelis disassembled stones of the Holy Family’s house and shipped them to Italy by way of modern-day Croatia. The stones were ultimately reconstructed in 1294–95 in their present location in Loreto, where the labors of the Angelis in bringing the stones by ship turned into the legend that “angels” had scooped up the home in Nazareth and transported it through the air to Loreto. In the succeeding centuries, the small stone house was enclosed within an elaborate marble structure within an ornate papal basilica, which became one of the most visited Marian shrines in the world.

Our Lady of Loreto is the title of the statue of the blackened Virgin found in the Holy House. By the 1600s, a beautiful “Litany of Loreto” enumerating Mary’s biblically rich and theologically evocative titles became a popular Catholic devotion. In October 2019, Pope Francis went on pilgrimage to Loreto and announced that December 10 would henceforward be the Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Loreto on the Church’s universal calendar. The formal decree instituting the change states that the new feast “will help all people, especially families, youth and religious to imitate the virtues of the perfect disciple of the Gospel, the Virgin Mother, who, in conceiving the head of the church also accepted us as her own.”

The unwrapped gift of the Virgin Mary conceived the Lord amid her domestic concerns in the privacy of her family home in an insignificant hamlet. God did not spare Mary the demands He imposes on every human soul. The Christian God complicated Mary’s life just as He complicates every life. God is not an electric blanket or a pacifier. In satisfying His demands, we find ourselves; in imposing demands on ourselves, we find fulfillment. For the Christian, the goal of life is not happiness but meaning. And meaning is found by acquiring virtues, by attaining holy goals, by maturing through adversity, and by self-knowledge gained through prayer, among many other pathways. The dysfunctions of modernity are often the results of fools’ errands, of the search for deep meaning in hobbies, activities, clubs, sports, and occupations that, though worthy in themselves, are simply incapable of satisfying the most secret longings of the human soul. It is common to ask a pregnant woman, “What are you expecting?” Mary in the silence of her holy house was expecting the Savior, but she kept this immense secret locked inside the chamber of her heart. Perhaps Mary might ask us, with mirth, when we hopefully see her crowned in heaven, surrounded by a constellation of saints, “What were you expecting?” For the Catholic, heaven will be an intensification of what we already know.

Our Lady of Loreto, we ask your intercession to intercede on behalf of all who have recourse to you. Grant us the grace to respond generously to all of God’s invitations to holiness, though they may disrupt our domestic duties and life’s plans. Amen.

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