10th September 2023 10.30am – The Blessed Virgin Mary Eucharist

The Readings

Isaiah 61.10-end

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

Luke 1.46-55

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour 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 for ever.’

Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Revd Dr Canon Alan Billings.

How should we remember Mary, after whom our church takes its dedication?
Down the centuries Mary has been seen and understood in many different

She has been given many different titles: the Blessed Virgin, Saint Mary,
Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Madonna – Ma Donna the Italian for My

In art and statuary she has been painted in beautiful robes, often blue and
white, sometimes wearing a crown.

There have been annual commemorations or feast days in church services.
September 8 has been kept as the feast of Saint Mary for almost 1500 years
– hence our service this morning. And in some churches, mainly Roman
Catholic, the conception of Mary is remembered and the death, the feast of
the Assumption in August.

We could say that as time has gone by, Mary has become more and more
exalted in Christian thinking. So that she became, for example, not just one of
the saints, but the greatest of the saints – because she was the closest to
Jesus and she was the God-bearer – another of those titles.

These ways of thinking about Mary all made sense to people who were
Christians and members of the Church.

But in our day the number of active Christians and church members has
fallen. So these ways of depicting Mary mean less and less to people in a
less Christian, less religious society. If you talk about Madonna, people are
more likely to think of a singer than the mother of Jesus.

These ways of thinking about Mary only really make sense, then, in the
context of the faith. If that is not the context of many if not most people today,
if they struggle to understand what on earth we mean by calling Mary ‘Queen
of Heaven’ or ‘the Madonna’, does Mary have anything to say to our changed
and changing world?

I think the answer can be Yes … if we proceed with care,
Mary is first of all, before she is a saint, before she is Queen of Heaven,
before she is any of these things that Christians have wanted her to be and
have called her … before all this, Mary is a human being. Before she is any of
these things that make her so very different from you and me, she is like you
and me.

What I think we are learning to do in our day is find again what we have so
often lost down the years, Mary the human being.

In many ways, Mary the human being is not only more interesting, certainly
more relatable to, but also more likely to be historically true. Many of those
titles, much of that art, owes more to the Christian imagination than to
anything in scripture or reality.

Mary the mother sets us thinking not just about her motherhood but about all
parenting. As we see what she experiences, we find echoes of our own. She
rejoices in having a child, rejoices in seeing him grow and mature and do
well. But she also knows what every parent fears – she sees him suffer and
knows she can do nothing for him; her child dies before she does. She
reveals to us the truth about love – the more we love another the more we
open ourselves up to pain.

But Mary also experiences things which are not the lot of all mothers, all
parents, but are certainly the lot of some in our world. The birth of her child is
with little or no support. No National Health service. A birth in a stable. There
are women for whom something like this is the reality. And then she has to
take her baby and flee the country for a while and become a refugee. And for
some today this is how it is. And even at the end of her son’s life, his death is
not a natural death but a cruel one, inflicted by the state. Some mothers in
our world know all these things.

Mary the human being, then.

So there is a strange paradox here. The more the Christian Church was
dominant in society – the long centuries of Christian Europe – the more
remote Mary became as we exalted her. We lost sight of the woman who
gave birth to the Saviour.

But now we can find her again. If the old titles no longer help us in our faith,
finding Mary the human being can. From her human experiences we can take
courage and comfort.


The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica.

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father. Almighty God, our
Heavenly Father, you promised through your Son, Jesus Christ, to hear us when we pray in faith.

We give you thanks today, for the life of Mary, that you chose her to be mother of our Lord, and that
she remained close and supportive of him throughout his life. We pray for this church, dedicated to
St. Mary, that we may continue to serve our community and join together in regular worship in years
to come.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our world, for all nations suffering excessive heat, wild fires and flooding. May all
nations, particularly the richer ones who are mainly responsible for these problems, to come
together and agree a strategy to reverse global warming. We pray also for Ukraine and other lands
where there is war or oppression. We ask that all nations who wish to exercise power will come to
accept that working together for peace and cooperation is in accordance with your will.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our City of Sheffield as it celebrates Heritage Open Days this weekend. We give you
thanks for all the people who have come into this church, perhaps for the first time, and who have
visited Walkley’s other places of historic interest like the Library, the Community Centre and our
friends at Ebenezer Methodist Church. We pray also for all away on holiday, that they may return
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are unwell at this time, for Kath, James’ mother and Alan, and all others known
to us. We give you thanks for the skills of doctors and nursing staff, and all the relatives who give
support at times of illness. Give them the strength to continue in their work after the enormous
stresses of Covid. We pray that any new strain will be addressed before becoming very serious.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our Prayer.

We remember before you all who have died recently, particularly Keith Burchell, and ask you to be
with all who mourn their loss. In a moment of quiet we remember all those we continue to
miss……………May they all rest in peace.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, our patron saint, Mark, John and all your saints, we commend
ourselves to your unfailing love.
Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000