In honor of the Marian feasts this month, we asked author Maureen Mullins to share a little about about the writing of her book: Litany of Loreto.
Writing the Litany of Loreto was a journey over several years, diving into dusty back rooms of libraries, writing piles of reference notes - which I never looked at again. When at last I came to write, the planning was already there: an introductory chapter on the history of litanies and then more or less in order the short sections on each of the fifty-odd titles. The end was in sight when the Pope suddenly introduced three more titles, but it was easy to think of our Lady’s concern for the issues worrying the Holy Father.
Although I’ve done a fair amount of theology in my time, I’m no theologian, I’m a historian and a social historian at that. People need to be seen against the background of their times. With the New Testament, we are in first century Palestine and we have the writings of Josephus, historian, soldier, and sometimes governor of Galilee and with them, much of what the gospels tell us about Galilee acquires a third dimension.
The great ones in Jerusalem were very learned in Biblical studies, but seemingly little else. Nazareth does not appear in the Sacred Scriptures so is of no account. Nowadays Nazareth is a considerable city spread over the hillside, the administrative capital of the area, but down the road is the ancient city of Sepphoris which has had its ups and downs, but from Josephus, we learn that in the first years of the century Herod Antipas was rebuilding it as his capital. According to modern archaeological evidence, it was filling up with pleasant houses for a Jewish population that like its roomsen suite and is careful not to eat pork. Indeed, Josephus gives us a picture of a whole prosperous area exporting wheat, fish, and pork to feed Rome and flax to be spun into linen to cloth Rome. There is no mention of Sepphoris in the Gospels, but it is three and a half miles along the road from Nazareth and it is said that Joakim and Anna, Mary’s parents, lived there. Easy walking distance: Jesus and Joseph went there for their supplies, and may very well have had work projects there.
Another source of information is plain common sense. There is a tendency when reading Sacred Scripture to view happenings divorced from anything else we could know about the place and time – and human beings. Judgments are passed in a vacuum. When Nathaniel’s friend tells him the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel is immediately rude about Nazareth; it becomes established as a fact that Nazareth is of no account. Nathaniel is from Cana, four miles down the road from Nazareth, and we could become suspicious. They were on their way to a wedding in Cana; Jesus’ mother (from Nazareth) will be there, Jesus and friends are invited. In footballing terms, the boys from Nazareth fought the boys from Cana – and married their sisters. Human nature does not change. And again, as can be seen in the sect ‘Queen of Families’ it can come home to us that problems with growing up children are nothing new.