The Mystical Rose

“Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!

Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.”

This beautiful old Advent hymn tells the story of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the pure and mystical Rose who brings forth Jesus, just as prophecy had foretold.  It was discovered in 1599 and is attributed to an unknown Carthusian monk living in the monastery of St. Alban in Trier, Germany.  There are many verses which have been added to and modified over the centuries.

Originally written to honor the Virgin, non-Catholic authors have changed some of the words to place more emphasis on Jesus, rather than His Blessed Mother.  But its original form makes it obvious that it is a hymn of great love to the Virgin Mary and her participation in God’s eternal plan for our salvation.

From the very moment of creation, the Lord knew about Mary.  He knew her parents, her grandparents and all her other ancestors back to Adam and Eve.  Eve, who said, “No” to God’s command of her, would be redeemed through Mary’s “Yes” and the death and resurrection of her Son.  In this hymn, we hear of Jesse and his prophetic role in Jesus’ life.  Jesse was David’s grandfather and, as we know, Mary (and Joseph) were members of the House of David.  Jesse’s family gave us Mary and she, in turn, gave us Jesus.

In many Catholic homes and churches, we celebrate this family history during Advent as we prepare to welcome the Child at Christmas.  Instead of decorating a Christmas tree immediately after Thanksgiving, we decorate a Jesse tree, which tells the story of Scripture from creation until the birth of Christ.  The Jesse tree probably came into being as large tapestries or stained glass windows in churches.  For people who couldn’t read, these pictures were a way of learning Scripture.  These days, you can use your Christmas tree instead.  It’s a wonderful alternative to so many secular images we seem surrounded by in our modern world..  By placing the ornaments on the tree each day during Advent, you can share the corresponding Bible store with your kids.  A small globe can represent the story of creation, and a tree with apples on it can help them learn about Adam and Eve and the Garden.  A rainbow represents Noah and the flood, while a tent reminds us of God’s covenant with Abraham.  If you choose your favorite stories, you’ll have a fully-decorated tree by the time you get to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.  There aren’t any hard and fast rules, but this is a way of engaging your family in remembering God’s plan for us.  Then, when Christmas is here, you can “re-decorate” your tree to fit the 12 days of the season.

“Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind,

With Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.

To show God’s love a-right

She bore to men a Savior

When half-spent was the night.”

This old-fashioned song with its haunting melody and unfamiliar phrasing invites us to slow down and listen more closely.  The world says “hurry-hurry” at this time of year.  But if we hurry, we miss these weeks of anticipation and wonder that lead up to Christmas.  We miss meditating on the words of Isaiah which so beautifully help us to imagine Mary as a little girl, hearing his prophecy read aloud in the temple.  His words spoke about her “…therefore, the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: a maiden is with child and she will bear a son and will call his name Immanuel”(9:11-16).  Did she wonder if what he said might have been written about her and her future child?

Over the weeks ahead, as we prepare for His birth, take the time to listen to this hymn again.  Imagine the unexpected and miraculous beauty of a Rose blooming in winter, blooming when there is so little light and warmth to call it forth—yet blooming anyway.  For that way is the Lord’s way. In the midst of darkness, He brings forth Light. Where only dead stems appear, God is working to call forth life and beauty.  He does this in our own deadened and broken hearts.  He plants the love of Christ, the saving gift, the living water.  Remember the promises of His prophets which were manifest in the Virgin, the Mystical Rose, blooming forth in winter with the Light of the World.  Savor the journey we make to Bethlehem each winter.

“Holy Mary, Mystical Rose, you are the most beautiful flower created by God, in venerating you we praise God for His holiness and beauty.”

—St. John Newman

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