As we come to the end of our liturgical year, the Church places before us the feasts of St. Albert the Great (November 15) and the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (November 21).
At first glance, these feasts have little in common. First, we have Albert, nicknamed “The Boot” because he was said to have walked all of Europe, the great scientist and scholar and bishop, who is the true patron saint of extroverts, as he carried out his peripatetic mode of holiness in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the world. Albert is famous, first and foremost, because he was the teacher of the great St. Thomas Aquinas, forming young Thomas in the philosophy of Aristotle, which was newly available in Latin-speaking Europe. Called the “Universal Doctor” because he studied everything, the Bishop of Regensburg is also the brightest-shining exemplar of the “Scientific Revolution of 1215.” In his intellectual labors and tireless travel and widespread influence, he is a brilliant example of the fruitfulness of the active life in the Church.
The feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin is, on the other hand, a feast of the fruitfulness of the contemplative life in the Church. Although Sacred Scripture is silent on the matter, the Church receives the strong oral tradition, enshrined in her Sacred Liturgy, that the Blessed Virgin Mary left her parents and her home as a young woman and solemnly consecrated herself to God as a virgin, living a contemplative life in the shadow of the Temple in Jerusalem. In her is fulfilled the prophecy of the Psalmist: “Hearken, O daughter, and see and incline thy ear, and forget thy people and thy father’s house” (Psalm 44:11). Of this solemn consecration, St. Augustine says: “Mary answered the announcing angel: ‘How shall this be done, because I know not man?’ She would not have said this unless she had already vowed her virginity to God.”
St. Thomas, the pupil of St. Albert, explains that Mary consecrated her virginity to God with a vow because “works of perfection are more praiseworthy when performed in fulfillment of a vow.” Thomas goes on to explain that, at first, Our Lady’s vow of virginity was conditional upon further confirmation from God, Who commanded the People of Israel to marry and beget children “since the worship of God was spread according to carnal origin, until Christ was born of that people.” However, he continues, after she was engaged to Joseph and had, after much prayer, discussed the matter with him, “having taken a husband, according as the custom of the time required, together with him she took a vow of virginity.” Thus was inaugurated the precious tradition of consecrated life in the Church.
Albert’s activity and Mary’s contemplation, while starkly different in the details of daily living, are united by the common quality of the total consecration of all of one’s being and powers and efforts to Almighty God. Whether studying the created universe or contemplating its Creator, the Christian soul is called in all things to divine love, to the total gift of himself to God and, for God’s sake, to all men. This is the core of sanctity, of which we are especially aware in these sober November days of the dead. As we contemplate the Last Things, we are inspired by Albert’s witness in the active life and Our Mother’s gift of herself in the contemplative life.
Fr. Joseph Previtali