Groundhog Day enthusiasts will tell you that for decades there has only been one groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, even though groundhogs only live for six years or so. In a similar way, it can feel like there’s always a single distraction in American culture; we just keep switching out the bodies.

Our fresh amusements or outrages are periodically lifted up by the next man with a top hat, making it especially appropriate that the groundhog celebration coincides this year with the pageantry of Super Bowl Sunday. What makes February 2 a strikingly sad illustration of our national propensities is the splendor of what it conceals.

But don’t take my word for it; take Pope Pius IX’s. The definer of papal infallibility and author of the 1864 Syllabus of Errors claimed the Virgin Mary was called “Virgin Priest by the Fathers of the Church.”

The 20th-century priest René Laurentin decided to fact-check this pontifical declaration, just as puzzled readers might do today. Two dissertations later, Laurentin learned the Pope was right—the priesthood of Mary saturates the Christian tradition, and even has biblical basis. Mary is connected, through her kinswoman Elizabeth, to a priestly lineage even higher than Elizabeth’s husband, the priest Zechariah (Luke 1:5, 36). Hence church authorities like Theodore the Studite could say regarding Mary, “Hail daughter, young sacrificial priest,” and Tarasios the Patriarch of Constantinople could call her “the greatest among the high priests.”

Such associations are especially clear in art history, where Mary regularly sports vestments reserved for the clergy. This appears even in mainstream illustrations for the Feast of the Presentation ...

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