A Litany Revisited

Fr James Lyons continues his presentation of Marian titles from within the 16th Century Litany of Loreto. Our use and understanding of ‘Tower’ are explored and related to our devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

WelCom September 2023

Fr James Lyons continues his presentation of Marian titles from within the 16th Century Litany of Loreto. Our use and understanding of ‘Tower’ are explored and related to our devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Tower of David

Jerusalem’s Citadel, known as the ‘Tower of David’ is a magnificently restored archaeological structure that bears witness to thousands of years of history. Image: iStock.com

Known throughout the world, the Tower of London has stood for nearly 1000 years. Built immediately following the 1066 invasion by William the Conqueror, this tower was erected to dominate the skyline and control the inhabitants of a defeated land.

Even today, it retains its attraction as a secure castle and a guardian of all things royal, from families to crown jewels and other regal possessions. Visitor brochures describe the Tower of London as ‘a visible symbol of awe and fear’ – for during its history it has also served as a prison.

This is a good starting point towards an appreciation of the title given to Mary of Nazareth as Tower of David.

Through the ages, towers have been built as lookouts (watchtowers). Friends or foes could be identified long before they arrived at the gate, giving those within time to know whether to welcome or defend. Towers were early warning systems in pre-radar, electrical or digital times.

A lighthouse is also a tower. Its purpose is to guide ships to safe harbour and an indicator that the shore with its hidden dangers was near. The light at the top of the tower was also a welcome sign to weary sailors – a sign that they were not far from their destination.

Mary fits the image of a tower for her protective role as Mother of Jesus and Mother of the People of God, the Church. She is also our guiding light, showing with the clarity of her life and the strength of her love the way to Jesus. 

While she is not a prison, holding people against their will, those attracted to her are caught by her qualities of goodness and faithfulness and are encouraged to be part of her witness.

Mary and Joseph are of the Davidic line. Their royal ancestor is likened to an impregnable tower and a beacon of strength for the people. The Bible, in the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon), romanticises him as the neck of a beautiful woman: Your neck is like the Tower of David, built with elegance; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. [Song of Songs, 4:4. Life Application Bible, New International Version]

The Messiah was to come from the House of David. Jesus is given the title, Son of David, in recognition of the fulfilment of God’s promise. Mary, as Mother, is the Tower within which Jesus is conceived, born, nurtured and prepared to become a Tower and a Light for all.

In the Book of Psalms, many of them attributed to David, the awesome strength and beauty of God can be also compared to a tower that stands tall, a faithful guardian, reliable, secure, forever watching over the people under its protection.

Psalm 61:3 – For you, O God, have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

There is power and magnificence, wonder and awe, in those images.  It is easy to see why popular devotion has found the Tower of David a most fitting description of Mary of Nazareth, Mother of the Lord.

Tower of David, watch over us.
Tower of David, keep us together.
Tower of David, free us from fear.
Tower of David, warn us of danger.
Tower of David, strengthen us to serve.
Tower of David, be a light in our darkness.
Tower of David, be our shield and our hope of glory.
Mary, Tower of David,
pray for us.

Tower of Ivory

Statue of Mary at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Wellington. Photo: WelCom

Ivory has long been a symbol of beauty and purity, making it an ideal image for Mary of Nazareth, Mother of Jesus, the Christ.

Highly valued by carvers and decorative artists for making ornaments and figurines, ivory has also been sought after to inlay furniture and for piano keys. In traditional medicine, a powdered form of ivory has been used as a healing element.

The demand for its use created a profitable trading business and, despite protective legislation, elephants are still killed for their tusks. The annual trade in ivory is worth many billions of dollars.

In modern idiom, to live in an Ivory Tower, is to live in a world of your own, a dreamer, detached from reality!

Do these seemingly contradictory images related to ivory detract from the title Christians give to Mary? Not at all!

The beauty and purity of Mary in her personality and bearing are proclaimed in the first words of the Angel Gabriel: Hail, Mary, full of grace – most favoured one – [Luke 1:28].

Beauty and purity are to be treasured and protected wherever they are found. They are qualities greatly admired and, like ivory, highly valued. Jesus alluded to this in three of his parables concerning the ‘kingdom of heaven’, or the ‘reign of God’, which the Gospel of Matthew has grouped together in Chapter 13. One of them tells of a trader who finds a ‘pearl of great value’ and gives away everything he has to buy it. [Vs: 45]

Mary as a ‘Tower of Ivory’ portrays an image of strength and watchfulness as well as one of outstanding beauty and value. A tower ‘towers’ above any settlement, guarding its approaches and providing a sense of security and well-being for the inhabitants.

Built of ivory, this tower is beyond price, shining and glorious. To be in its presence, under its protection, is to be both safe and grateful.

As a title of the Mother of Jesus and part of the Litany dedicated to her, the Tower of Ivory invites the believer to have enormous trust in Mary’s intercession. As one of us in her humanity, she knows our needs, recognises our fears and understands our uncertainty as we journey through life.

A tower constructed of ivory is no ordinary tower. It must hold something far above the value of itself. Mary is Mother of the Christ Child, the most blessed of all women [see Luke 1:42]. She is the beautiful, pure container, carrying the one Christians believe is Son of the Most High, the Saviour of the World.

This is no ‘ivory tower’ experience. Mary has her feet firmly on the ground. Reality is her realm. At the foot of the Cross, at the centre point of terrifying torture, Jesus gave her into the keeping of the Apostle John who accepted her on behalf of all who follow the Way of the Cross [see John 19:26-27]. This is real. Her Motherhood is our Tower of Ivory.

Ornaments and figurines
carved in the beauty of ivory
can never match your splendour
Mary, our Mother.
One of us, yet so much more.
Lifted high, just like the Cross.
You stretch out your hands
in blessed welcome.
A tower rich in beauty
shining through the darkness of
our fear to safeguard,

to honour and to announce
the presence of Jesus.
Mary, Tower of Ivory, pray for us.