In the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we invoke her as a Tower of Ivory when we ask her to pray for us.
The phrase is only used once in the Bible in the Song of Songs where a bridegroom expresses how beautiful his bride is when he tells her, “Your neck is like a tower of ivory.” The book, despite its allusion to a sensual encounter, is part of the canon of Scripture because, in the right context, it is an analogy of how God, as a husband, loves his bride, Israel. In the New Testament perspective, these are words we can put in the lips of Christ that he makes in reference to his bride, the Church.
The Church is the bride of Christ because it is inseparable from him. In Genesis, we read how God put Adam in a deep sleep, opened his side, and from a rib taken out of it, fashioned Eve. The next verses tell us how this is the model every husband and bride follow when they become “one flesh.” When Christ closed his eyes in death, the Church Fathers saw the blood and water from this side as the symbolic formation of the Church because Christ woke “wake up” from a “deep sleep” three days later. So, just as Eve is bride and “one flesh” with Adam, so is the Church bride and “one flesh” with Christ. Another way we express this inseparability is to say the Church is the mystical body of Christ the head.
If the Church is the mystical body of Christ, what is the “neck like a tower of ivory?” The answer is Mary. Pope Leo XIII explained that every grace takes a threefold course that is dispensed from God to Christ the head, from Christ to Mary the neck, and from Mary to the rest of the body of the Church. (Iucunda Semper, 1894) Pope Pius X concurred with this when he said Mary is, “the neck of our head, by which all spiritual gifts are communicated to his mystical body.” (Ad Diem Illum 1904.) This is why one of Mary’s titles is Neck of the Mystical Body. It is also why we call her the Mediatrix of all Graces.
Mary, then, is the neck of the Church; but she isn’t just any neck, but a neck like ivory. What does that mean? Ivory has identical properties as teeth. It is tough on the outside, and white on the inside. So, Mary is a Tower of Ivory because her resolve was as tough as ivory when she stood beneath the cross of Christ when his other apostles and disciples cowered in some dark corner in fear of getting arrested. She was the bridge between Good Friday and Easter Sunday that kept the faith when the faith of Peter and the others failed that weekend. She was the buoy that kept the Church afloat when hope sank; hers was the light that led the Church as it groped in darkness on Black Saturday. This is why we dedicate Saturdays to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is how Mary is a Tower of Ivory.
We look the Mary as our model in times of hopelessness. She holds the line for us as she did that Black Saturday. We only need to take her hand when things go dark and she will guide us to the joy and light of Easter.
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100 Things Every Catholic Should Know
Whether or not you are new to the Catholic Church, or struggling, or lapsed, or dynamically involved, this book will enlighten you with the essentials of the Faith that have been handed down to us by the apostles.
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Joby finished Theology courses from the University of Notre Dame. He is a contributing writer at www.catholic365.com, and teaches in the De La Salle College of St. Benilde where he engages students in conversations about religion, pop-culture, and food.
Did you ever wonder how Mary is the Help of Christians or a Vessel of Honor?
Mary's titles express how the Church presents her, but some are obscured by language and culture. The book A Sky Full of Stars, explains all her titles in the litany so we get to meet Mary face to face.
Bishop Socrates Villegas says, "A Sky Full of Stars must be an obligatory reference material for religion teachers and seminarians. It helps the reader to see the Virgin Mary within the perspective of sound biblical theology and solid Catholic tradition... [and is] also easy to understand."