THE BEAUTY OF THY HOUSE
by Mark Alessio
(Loreto Press, 2006, 374pp, softcover, $39.95.
Available from Freedom Publishing)
Reviewed by Tim Cannon
Many Catholics have some understanding of Our Lady's role in the life of the Church, but for the most part, its various aspects remain disparate, both from each other, and from the fuller deposit of faith and doctrine.
Mindful of the graces which devotion to Our Lady promises, Mark Alessio has performed an invaluable service with his book, The Beauty of Thy House. Here we find a rich and colourful portrait, and a comprehensive doctrinal exploration.
A lifetime would be insufficient for an exhaustive exploration of even one mystery of faith. And while the great saints and theologians produced insights into this or that element of Christianity, the majority of believers retain little more than sketches and vague impressions.
Serious Catholics strive, throughout their lives, to deepen their understandings of the truths of faith, filling them out with detail and colour, according to their abilities; for we are called to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and we cannot love what we do not know.
Our Lady's role
One of the most beautiful mysteries of faith can be found in Catholic doctrine regarding the person of Our Lady, the mother of Jesus Christ. Devotion to her is uniquely Catholic, and although it is widely professed by the faithful, its intricacies are little understood.
Church teaching regarding her pivotal role in salvation history, her Immaculate Conception, and her relationship to the Church and its members, is complex and challenging, but the Church has long taught that drawing nearer to Our Blessed Mother is a sure way to draw nearer to her Son.
In his introduction, Alessio refers to his original intention of writing a 'booklet' on Our Lady. Suffice it to say that, in the course of its writing, this booklet has grown considerably. The author notes that this is all but inevitable when one sets out to explore any specific aspect of the faith, given that the Catholic faith itself is characterised by a seamless unity.
Since any one doctrine of faith is intrinsically related to all others, we discover that, in a work which is ostensibly concerned with rendering a portrait of Mary, the author must also explore the ways in which Marian doctrine is related to other fundamental articles of faith, such as the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and the Hypostatic Union of the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ.
The benefit to the reader is that, with this approach, some of the more familiar aspects of Catholic theology are given a fresh perspective. By seeing them through the prism of Marian doctrine, we are given an opportunity to grow to a deeper, richer understanding of these mysteries. This is evident, for example, in the author's discussion of the universal motherhood of Mary, and the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.
Here Alessio shows that since Christ's body was born of the Virgin Mary, and since the Church and her members form together the Mystical Body of Christ, then we too have been born of Our Lady, and rightly call her Mother. In this way, The Beauty of Thy House promises not merely to give insight into the nature of the Blessed Virgin, but also to enrich the reader's overall understanding of the Catholic Faith.
Still, this is a book about Mary, and throughout its 33 chapters, Alessio leads us on an eye-opening journey through the beautiful mysteries of her unique role in the salvation of a fallen world. Our author is thorough, seeking on the one hand to reveal the doctrinal and theological implications of Our Lady's role, and on the other to introduce us to this 'living, vibrant and loving' person whom we call 'Mother'.
The chapters flow in a natural topical progression, with later chapters frequently referring to material discussed earlier. The book also lends itself to use as a reference for Marian doctrine with relative ease, thanks to a detailed chapter listing at the beginning, and a concise topical summary at the start of each chapter. In this regard, however, the inclusion of a topical index would have been helpful.
Clearly, the book's production has been motivated in no small way by the author's own devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. But, to his credit, Alessio fills the pages, not with his own personal interpretations or speculations, but with the Church's rich body of accumulated wisdom regarding Our Lady.
One would be hard-pressed to find even a single paragraph which does not draw its content from Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, Church Tradition, papal encylicals, or the writings and lives of the saints. As a result, the reader can confidently approach difficult truths of the faith, such as the Virgin Birth, with the assurance not just of the author, but of the authority and orthodoxy of the Church herself.
With so extensive a wellspring of information at his command, it is unfortunate that the author did not also include a bibliography.
Overall, however, with its fine attention to detail and broad, holistic vision, The Beauty of Thy House provides a full, rich and colourful understanding of Our Lady's place in Christ's Kingdom.
Tim Cannon is a research officer with the Thomas More Centre.