October 2020 Allocutio
Mary, Queen of the Harvest
Fr. Paul Churchill
In our Northern Hemisphere we are coming towards the end of the harvest season. During autumn the crops are taken in, the fruits from trees and plants are gathered and the harvest is stored to see us through the winter. In many places a harvest festival takes place to celebrate the fact that the winter supplies are in.
In ancient Ireland this became part of the festival of Samhain which marked the celtic New Year. In their limited understanding our ancient forebears saw this as an occasion for the souls of the departed to exercise some influence on our world and many of the druidic rituals were to ensure that this would have no bad outcome.
The Christian faith usefully took these ancient behaviours and blended them into a renewed outlook. It was Pope Gregory III who established the feast of All Saints or All Hallows celebrated on 1st November. Not long after this the feast of all Souls was established and celebrated on 2nd November. And very soon people were speaking of All Hallows Eve or Halloween.
We are approaching the festival of God’s harvest. How often Our Lord spoke of the angels going out and collecting God’s harvest, the fruits of God’s labour. In one of his parables Jesus speaks of a world in which there was good and evil fruits. Some spiritual crops were good and fruitful, some were bad darnel. The angels, he said, would come and gather the good crop into heaven; the bad crop would be burnt as useless.
You know how when you pick crops some are ripe and fit to be used immediately while some need further ripening. This is not an inappropriate image for the feast of All Saints and All Souls. Those souls whom we celebrate on the feast of All Saints can be likened to those who are fully ripe and so can be brought straight into the halls of heaven. Those souls who are fundamentally sound but still need some finishing off, so to speak, are those who are destined to be brought into the Halls of Heaven after they have fully ripened. We pray for them on the Feast of All Souls. They are all God’s harvest.
We who are out here in the fields of our world are still developing and we do well to recall other words of Our Lord, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit”. A good spiritual life leads us to bear good fruits. But in our spiritual fragilitys we must remain attached to the vine who is Christ if we are to bear good fruits and be found worthy of being received into the halls of heaven, the harvest of heaven.
Of course, our harvest festival needs a queen! Ah yes, you can guess where I am going with this and you know the candidate! It may be that the idea of a harvest festival queen has pagan origins just as Halloween does. Milton’s Paradise Lost refers to Eve as the Harvest Queen who gives the bad fruit to Adam. Let us allow Milton to speak to us. He describes Eve’s choosing to eat the fruit in these words:
‘“What fear I then? … Here grows the cure of all, this fruit divine, fair to the eye, inviting to the taste, of virtue to make wise: What hinders then to reach, and feed at once both body and mind?” …..
Back to the thicket slunk the guilty Serpent; and well might; for Eve, intent now wholly on her taste, nought else regarded; such delight till then, as seemed, in fruit she never tasted, whether true or fancied so, through expectation high of knowledge.’
But all is not yet lost since Adam has not eaten the fruit. So, let’s fast forward. Adam awaits her return and thus Milton writes:
‘Adam the while, waiting desirous her return, had wove of choicest flowers a garland, to adorn her tresses, and her rural labours crown; as reapers oft are wont their harvest-queen …..
And forth to meet her went, the way she took that morn when first they parted: by the tree of knowledge he must pass; there he her met, scarce from the tree returning; in her hand a bough of fairest fruit, that downy smiled, new gathered, and ambrosial smell diffused.’
Alas his harvest queen and he would bring his offspring ruin. Eve cannot be the model of our harvest queen.
As Christ is the new Adam and Mary the new Eve, as Frank Duff so often says, then we are entitled to see Christ awaiting his new Eve as Harvest Queen. On her Assumption, the sign of first fruits, Christ placed a garland of choicest flowers on her head.
Mary is the Queen of the harvest of heaven, of the myriad of souls who, in all their diversity, give God glory. Queen of angels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, saints, families. She is queen of the heroic public witness, be it a Dominic or Maximilian Kolbe. She is Queen of those people to whom she confided special spiritual messages, be they the Bernadettes of Lourdes or the children of Fatima. She is the Queen of the so many small people without mention who lived humble and quiet lives that get no special promotion except we all know and heaven knows they were saintly souls.
Finally I just wonder how they choose the earth’s harvest queen? What is certain is that Mary is the most fitting Queen of the Harvest of Heaven since she provided the way for the in-coming Christ and so facilitated the redemption of us all so that Christ could even descend into Hades after his death and gather into the same Heavenly Harvest from Limbo all those since Adam and Eve who had awaited that moment.
So, as we move to celebrate the great harvest of Heaven let us not forget its Queen, the most worthy holder of the title of Queen of the Harvest. Let us pray to her for all the dead. Amen.