The Virgin Mary in the Holy Liturgy
When trying to write about our Lady the Virgin Mary, the words from the Maymar by the late Bishop Paulos El Boshy best illustrate her, as he wrote, “You are exalted high above the heavenly, and are greater than the Cherubim, you outshine the Seraphim and you are nobler than the hosts of the angels. You are the pride of our race, and through you true purity and chastity are exemplary, for God lifted you up over all His creation, He chose to be born through you. For this reason you are dignified, and your intercession is great…”
Our Coptic church presents many great praisesthat are befitting of her high dignity. We do this throughout our daily prayers, praises, Psalms, and even throughout the Holy Liturgy.We find a rich heritage through expressions and sentences that our church uses to illustrate her extraordinary character as it mentions all her attributes. All of these attributes were derived from theological roots and they have all been established by the fathers the saints as well as the theologians – they were inspired by God. These attributes were also illustrated through the symbols and the prophecies that were mentioned in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament.
During the evening offering of incense: The canticles are chanted after the thanksgiving prayer, and each sentence is different. Through each chant we send greetings to our Lady the Virgin Mary on a daily basis, we say, “Hail to you O Mary…a Holy greeting. Hail to you O Mary, the mother of the Holy one…” Then the parts which precede the orthodox creed are chanted, they begin with, “Hail to you, O saintly one…” after which some other doxologies follow, and then we recite the orthodox creed.
Throughout the Holy Liturgy: Throughout the Holy Liturgy, our Lady the Virgin Mary is glorified about ten times, among those times are the following:
- During the hymn of blessings, prior to the offering of the oblation, the church chants a hymn for our Lady the Virgin Mary, it begins, “Hail to Mary the Queen, the source of the vine who never aged…”
- After the prayer of thanksgiving during the Great Lent parts of Psalm 87 “His foundations are in the holy city…” are chanted, and this Psalm indicates that our Lady the Virgin Mary is God’s holy city.
- During the reading of the Pauline Epistle, there is a hymn which is chanted during feasts, and it also pertains to our Lady the Virgin Mary, it states, “This is the censor of pure gold….”
- Before and after the Praxis readings, hymns for our Lady the Virgin Mary are chanted. Each hymn is customized to each of the five different events that occur throughout the Coptic year.
- Throughout the readings that lead towards the Holy Gospel: these readings differ from the first two Sundays of the month of Kiahk to the last two Sundays. Here we ask for the intercessions of our Lady the Virgin Mary during the days of the regular year after we venerate the saint of that particular day.
- Throughout our orthodox creed, the Coptic Church has established the importance of our Lady the Virgin Mary as she is the mother of God. After the council of Ephesus in the year 431 A.D., the church instilled this in the creed so as to clarify the Divine incarnation and to rebuttal against the heresy of Nestorius. This is why the church also added a line at the start of the creed that serves as a confirmation, and was agreed upon by the council of Ephesus, it states: “We exalt you O mother of the true light…”
- After the prayer of reconciliation, our Lady the Virgin Mary is mentioned as the congregation chants, ‘Rejoice O Mary, maiden and mother….”
- Throughout the commemoration of the saints and upon its conclusion, the priest calls upon the intercessions of our Lady the Virgin Mary, especially because of her esteemed position. She is mentioned prior to the saints of the victorious church both at the start of the commemoration and at its conclusion.
- Also throughout the concluding prayer, the following is recited, “Through the prayers and the intercessions of the one who is full of holiness, the glorified, the pure, and the blessed…”
Throughout the Agpeya prayers:
Our church organized the book of the hours (the Agpeya) in a precise way that includes a third litany of every hour pertaining to our Lady the Virgin Mary, as we ask for her intercessions. In some of those litanies, our Lady the Virgin Mary is referred to as, “…the true vine having born the cluster of life....full of grace. Other examples include:
Throughout the Prime Prayer we say,“O Theotokos (Mother of God), the second heaven, you are the honoured mother of the Light. From the sunrise to the sunset the faithful offer you praises. You are the bright and unchanging flower and the mother who remained a virgin, for the Father chose you, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed you, and the Son deigned to take flesh from you. Wherefore we ask the Lord to give salvation to the world which He created and to deliver it from all tribulations. Let us praise the Lord and sing to Him a new son now and forever, and from all ages to all ages, amen.”
Hail Mary we ask you O saint full of glory the ever virgin Theotokos the Mother of Christ. We ask you to raise our prayers to your beloved Son that He may forgive us our sins. Hail to the Holy Virgin who bore for us the True Light, Christ our Lord. Ask the Lord on our behalf that He may have mercy on us and forgive us our sins. Hail to you O virgin the very and true queen, hail to the pride of our race who bore for us Emmanuel, we ask you to remember us our trusted advocate before our Lord Jesus Christ that He may forgive us our sins.
As we introduce the Creed of Faith we say, “We magnify you O mother of the True Light, and we glorify you O Theotokos, the Holy Virgin for you bore for us the Saviour of the world, who came and saved our souls. Glory be to You, O Christ; our Master and our King; the honour of the apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the joy of the righteous, the firmness of the churches and the forgiveness of sins. We proclaim the Holy Trinity in one essence, we worship Him and glorify Him, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord bless us, amen.”
Throughout the Vespers Prayers we say, “Every iniquity I did with prudence and activity, and every sin I committed with eagerness and diligence, and of all torment and judgement I am worthy. Therefore, prepare for me the ways of repentance, O Lady the Virgin; for to you I appeal, and through you I seek intercession, and upon you I call to help me, lest I might be put to shame. And when my soul departs my body attend to me, and defeat the conspiracy of the enemies, and shut the gates of Hades, lest they might swallow my soul, O you, blameless bride of the true Bridegroom.”
Throughout the Compline hour we say, “O pure Virgin, overshadow your servant with your instant help, and keep the waves of evil thoughts away from me, and raise up my ailing soul for prayer and vigil, for it has gone into a deep sleep. For you are a capable, compassionate and helpful mother, the bearer of the Fountain of Life, my King and my God, Jesus Christ, my hope.”
In conclusion, we clearly notice that the church clearly dedicates precise hymns and supplications that pertain to our Lady the Virgin Mary. We also notice how rich our hymns are, and how the Virgin Mary is included in many various prayers and praises. In addition, we notice that the church magnifies our Lady the Virgin Mary on a daily basis throughout many of the hours. We pray that we may grow closer to the Virgin Mary and that we may develop a special bond with her as our patron saint throughout our daily lives. This way our hearts and our tongues can continue to glorify her, for she said, “Hence forth all generations shall call me blessed…”