The Visitation and the Iris:
The ancient Egyptians considered the Iris as a symbol of eloquence, and placed the flower on the brow of the Sphinx and on their kings' sceptres, the three leaves representing faith, wisdom and courage. In the Mystries of the Annunciation and the Visitation, Mary demonstrates all four attributes: wisdom in her reaction to Gabriel, faith and courage in her acceptance of his message, and eloquence in her 'Magnificat'. In Christian Art, the flower came to represent the Queen of Heaven and her Immaculate Conception, calling to mind that Mary could not have been Queen of Heaven unless she had been immaculately conceived, nor could she have become Christ's mother without that conception.
In the work of the early Flemish artists there is rivalry between the iris and the lilly for the name 'flower of the holy Virgin'.But perhaps the iris has the edge because its sword-shaped leaves gave it the added symbolisam of the sword that was to pierce Mary's heart. There is a medieval monastic legend that echoes this: at the death of Jesus, all nature grieved and a dead silence fell upon the earth. Only the plants still whispered and the iris said, 'Dark violet will forever be the mourning colour of my flowers.'
Iris 'Rosario: The Visitation is a joyful Mystery of the Rosary, and indeed in parts of Italy the roots of the bearded iris were used to make rosary beads. I do not know whether this is still the case, or whether this cultivar is named for the Rosary, or because of the slight pink tinge of its petals in some lights.
The iris is named after one of the Greek messengers of the gods who travelled along the rainbow between heaven and earth in order to deliver the commands of the gods to the people. Her veil contained the colours of the rainbow, and she came to be thought of as the personification of the rainbow itself. And in spite of the later Christian legend, the iris indeed blooms in almost all the colours of the spectrum. Later Iris was believed to bring the souls of women and children to the land of everlasting peace, taking the latter group into her lap. In this personification and action she was regarded as the connection between heaven and earth. This mythology is clearly the reason why the iris has come to signify a message, and usually a good one, in the Language of Flowers. And it is easy to see how these attributes of Iris were Christianised, as they applied so clearly to Mary in her role as messenger to Elizabeth at the Visitation, and to her role as mother of us all. We continually ask her to pray for us 'now and at the hour of our death'.
(Note: The difference between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Iris is obvious.Our Lady is real. She has a human history and a heavenly reality and throughout the centuries has never ceased to be our Mother, never ceased to bring us the messages we ignore at our peril; Iris is a myth, dreamed up by the human spirit longing for certainty in the Divine. And yet the same human spirit is programmed to search for that certainty. It was opened up to us at the Incarnation when God sent his Son into the world through the fourfold virtue of the Immaculately conceived Virgin Mary whom He had created.)
Above all I think of the Visitation as full of joy, the joy of Mary, the joy of Elizabeth and of the unborn John within her womb. But it is an occasion of our joy too, because Mary is bringing Christ to us. The mystery of the Visitation foreshadows the coming of Jesus into our lives and the union of our souls with Him. So that we can all ask with Elizabeth, 'Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' As Maisie Ward put it: " Our Lord in this mystery has not only taken a human nature from Mary but has left Himself helpless, powerless in the darkness of her womb to be taken where she wills. Even so , it is the beginning of the divine economy of grace whereby God saves mankind by giving HIMSELF into the power of mankind. The Cure d'Ars, marvelling over the Blessed Sacrament, said, 'I bear Him to the right and He stays to the right; I bear Him to the left and He stays to the left. ' " ('The Splendour of the Rosary' Sheed and Ward 1948)
Meditation on the Magnificat is an appropriate way to end Mary's month, but at any time it proves an inexhaustible well for such reflection. For instance, to magnify and to rejoice in God is the beginning of realisation of our own nothingness: Mary would be called blessed by all generations because of her humility, and only to the humble can God entrust His gifts; and later Our Lord blesses those who hunger and thirst after justice. Here, Mary's Magnificat points the way to a solution for our social problems and to true Christian living.
Our Lady in the Magnificat Garden
Breath of Heaven,
Carry us on the impulse
Of Christ's love,
as easily as thistledown
is carried on the wind;
that in the Advent season of our souls,
while He is formed in us,
in secret and in silence
the Creator in the hands of his creatures
as the Host
in the hands of the priest -
we may carry Him forth
to wherever He wishes to be,
as Mary carried Him over the hills
on His errand of love,
to the house of Elizabeth.
(Caryl Houselander 1901- 1954)
(copyright Jane Mossendew 'The Crown of the Yeaar' 2005 The Houselander poem is quoted with permission therein.)
This is my last post for a while. Aside from everything else, still haven't really recovered from the trip to Rome for the Blogmeet. Need to recharge spiritual batteries. Hope to be back in about a week.