Introduction: For centuries there is a particular devotion to the blessed mother Mary northwest of the town of Avellino which is near the city of Naples in Italy. There Mary is known as the Madonna of Montevergine. She also goes by the title of Mama Schiavana or Mother of slaves and the oppressed. But she is also honored there for centuries by queer people or those who have always been considered as gender and sexual non-conforming and thereby considered as outcasts in many Italian cities and societies. She is celebrated as the mother of queer people because of a legendary story where the Lady of Montevergine saved two male lovers from dying. According to MCC Theologian and Church historian, Reverend Kittredge Cherry, in the winter cold of 1256, two men were spotted holding hands and kissing on the way to church for worship. Enraged by such an expression of love and intimacy, a good number of the town’s people gathered and took the two men. Stripped them naked and did violence against them. They were brought to the nearby Mount Portenio where the shrine of our Lady of Montevergine was located. Not far from the shrine, the town’s people tied the bruised couple in a barren tree to be left there overnight to either die in the winter cold or to be ravaged by wolves. The story goes that Mary, the merciful Mother of God looked upon them with love and a warm light came upon the lovers to be saved from the cold, and eventually set free. Because of this story made known to many Italian cities and towns, the Madonna of Montevergine has been celebrated and honored for centuries by sexual and gender minorities every February 2nd, on the feast of Candlemas where hundreds and thousands of queer people from Italy and other European countries make a pilgrimage there to salute the one they call Mama Schiavana. Rev. Kitteredge Cherry says that the festivities, processions and other celebrations for our Lady of Montevergine near Avellino, Italy maybe considered as our ancient pride march and price celebration.
Metropolitan Community Churches or MCC is also known as a pioneering Christian Church open and affirming of LGBTQI+ individual since 1968. MCC is also ecumenical where individuals from various Christian traditions are able to come together to bring the best of their traditions, theologies and practices to the community. Here in MCC, there is no reason why Pentecostals, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and other Christians cannot come together to share their rich spiritual life and tradition of one other; celebrating diversity in community while being grounded in God’s radically inclusive love for all.
Let us be clear though, we do not worship Mary in whatever form or title she has. MCC also does not impose this belief or practice to anyone among its members, leaders and allies. The object of our worship as all Christians do remains to be the One Triune God. Jesus Christ Son of God and son of Mary, is our Lord and Savior in whose truth, life and way, we try our best to follow and to embody. Open Table MCC remains committed to its ecumenical openness and practice. With this, today, we honor not only the one we call us the Brown Mother of slaves and the oppressed, Our Lady of Montevergine, we also honor our queer Christian ancestors who have flocked to her mantle of love and protection for centuries.
PRAYERS TO OUR LADY OF MONTEVERGINE
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A Reading from the gospel according to Luke 1:41-56
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Our Father, who are’th in heaven, Holy be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive those indebted to us. Lead us not into the test, but deliver is from the evil one. Amen.
Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now at the hour our death. Amen. (Repeat 3x)
Mary, Mother of the Word incarnate; Mother of the Church and Mother of all who cry out to you, look upon your rainbow children with tenderness. Turn your eyes toward some of us who have been rejected by our parents. Turn your ears to the whispering cries of those in the closet. Open your heart to all of us who have been rejected by the institutional Church, oh Lady of the oppressed and Mother of slaves. We who walk in exile and journey in this valley of tears, extend to us your loving hands, Mother of our Lord. Are you not our Mother too? by the grace of your Son who welcomed the unwanted and lifted up the lowly, are we not also your children?
Comfort us and guide us in our sorrows and pains. Share in our joys, stories and laughter. Pray for us, your children of many colors and hues. Through your intercession and prayers, we raise up to the Holy Triune One, our individual petitions: (In the silence of our hearts, let us say our individual petitions)
But we do not only pray for ourselves. We also pray for the world that is longing for hope, healing and love, under your mantle of care and also by your intercession we pray for the following:
All Covid-19 Patients in the hospital right now, especially those in ICU. We also pray for their families.
- For all frontline medical workers and other hospital staff, and each of their families.
- For the ones we have lost due to COVID-19 and their families who continue to grieve.
- That everyone may have access to safe and effective vaccines, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
- That we may all learn our lessons of the Pandemic and effect changes in our lives and in our societies.
- For everyone who are economically struggling because of this pandemic
- For the safety and protection of all activists and advocates for justice, human rights and the environment.
- For the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill into law, sooner than later.
- For the Metropolitan Community Churches around the world, but most especially our church community of Open Table MCC.
- For the outgoing and incoming officers of Open Table MCC and for a new woman pastor for our Church community.
With your loving intercession, bring our prayers before your son, Jesus. Point us and guide us always to Him who is of your own flesh. Help us to follow in the path of your child and live by the message He proclaimed. And after our exile, having loved and served one another as He has commanded, present us before Christ’s holy presence and under His light may we dwell forever, oh most loving, accepting and tender Mother of God.
Mary of Nazareth, Madonna of Montevergine pray for us your queer children.
That we may also receive the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Oh eternal and loving God, who chose Mary of Nazareth to carry your Word in her womb and take on our flesh through her flesh, becoming human in every way except in sin, we come to your holy presence with love and humility. By the fruit of her womb, Jesus, and through her intercession, pour out your love and mercy towards your children especially to those of us who continue to be rejected and marginalized. Answer our prayers Loving God. Save us from persecution, degradation, discrimination and everything that may harm us. Forgive us of our sins and failures. Heal us from the wounds and traumas inflicted upon us. Help us in our cause for equality and human dignity. Give justice to those of us who have fallen victim to the violence of church and society. We look forward to the day that all queer children will be accepted, loved and celebrated by every family, community of faith and every society. We join our prayers with the unceasing prayer of our Mother of Montevergine and of all queer saints, asking and calling upon the name of the same Jesus Christ our savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning is now and will be forever. Amen.
May the souls of our dearly departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
May our individual and collective prayers also lead us to action.
By the grace of God through Christ. Amen.