INTRODUCTION

Mary's Place in the Christian's Journey

 

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) in the eighth chapter of 'Lumen Gentium' - the 'Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Church' (1965), enshrines Marian theology and devotion in the truths of faith and their articulation. After her Divine Son, and never equated with Him, Our Lady is esteemed before all as a unique member of the Church in her faith and charity and as its most honoured model. It is of great comfort that she remains united to all of us, her family, who look for salvation. Though Mother of the Son of God made man, she is, like us, of 'Adam's stock'.

To have recourse to her cannot lessen or enlarge the infinite dignity and efficacy of Christ, the Sole Mediator. Of course, no created being can compare with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer but Our Lord shares His Priesthood with His people among and through whom His loving kindness is made manifest. In the same way, as in the case of Mary, the unique mediation of the Redeemer stimulates, rather than excludes, a participation and co-operation which is varied but which originates from the One Source. (cf62 LG)

Her elevation, by dogma and tradition, emanates from authentic Christology and is directed to faith in Christ as true God and true man. In her, scripture and tradition, the old and new people of God and the mysteries of faith come together and are presented anew. Devotion to her widens the human dimension of faith wherein the reasoning of the intellect keeps company with the warmth of the heart. (cf65 LG)

In 1964, Pope Paul VI, on the feast of the Presentation of the Most Blessed Virgin (November 21st), conferred on her the title 'Mother of the Church', so reminding us that she is the Mother of all Christians through her motherhood of the world's Saviour. Four years later, he reiterated the Council's teaching in a series of weekly talks on Our Lady as one embraced within the Divine Trinitarian relationship which we adore. "As we cannot form an idea of Christ without reference to the truths of the Gospel regarding His Incarnation and the Redemption, so we cannot ignore the presence of Mary in every mystery of Christ's salvific mission." (cf 61 LG)

 

Paul VI and devotion to Mary

In 1974, Pope Paul delivered his felicitous Apostolic Exhortation 'Marialis Cidtus' for the "right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the context of the theological, liturgical and spiritual renewal intended by the Council. Appropriately, he chose the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2nd), recalling our gratitude to His Mother, for its publication. The following lines attempt a respectful and relevant synthesis.

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin originates in Christ, the source and centre of the ecclesial community, in Whom it finds its complete expression and efficacy. It reflects the Church's piety, the singular part played by Mary in obedience to the intentions of the Father's plan of Redemption and the unity of her Son's Mystical Body into which all are newly born through the assent of the second Eve. The maternal love shown by Mary and the Church inspires our reciprocation. When we celebrate and live with the Divine Mysteries in faith, charity and union with Christ, when we call upon Him and, in the Holy Spirit, worship the Father, our spiritual attitude has been nurtured by Mary's example.

Such devotion is permeated by the themes of the Gospel message which sustain the Church's Apostolic mission. The Liturgy, rich in doctrine, exercises a pastoral care as it reveals again the work of salvation through the annual arrangement of its feasts. The Holy Father points to the devotion's ecumenical character and its search for that social justice expected in Mary's 'Magnificat'. Her veneration as 'Tkeotokos', God-bearer and Help of Christians, unites Catholic and Orthodox Churches with Anglicans in appreciating her position in the Christian life and with the Churches of the Reform in their love of the Sacred Scriptures wherein God is praised by her rejoicing spirit. The power of the Most High which overshadowed the Virgin of Nazareth urges our acclaim of the Handmaid to whom the Almighty has done great things. The same Holy Spirit gathers, rather than divides, all who believe in her Son and will guide us away from a misleading and inhibiting exaggeration to a doctrine unclouded and supportive of unity.

A woman for our times, Mary mirrors the expectations of all women who seek their entitled participation in decision-making. In her dialogue with God they can recognise a responsible consent to co-operation in the Incarnation, an event of matchless importance. Her choice of virginity is no rejection of the values of the married state but a courageous decision to dedicate herself to God. She was no timid submissive of repellent piety but a woman of conviction who proclaimed loudly that God vindicates the humble and strips the powerful of privilege. She knew poverty, suffering, flight and exile, undertook a fraught journey to help an elderly cousin, adopted her universal children as she watched her Son die in agony and fortified the faith of the early apostolic community. The model disciple of the Lord, Mary helps establish an earthly realm while journeying to one which is heavenly and everlasting. She works for justice, the liberation of the oppressed and the solace of the needy; she is the active witness of the love which enthrones Christ in human hearts and, having walked with us in this vale of tears, has prepared our share in her eternal joy.

 

Pope John Paul II

The papacy and pastoral teaching of Pope John Paul II, have been characterised by his personal devotion to Our Lady and his desire to share with us the significance of Marian theology. In his encyclical 'Redemptoris Mater', written to herald the Marian Year 1987/8, he urged a renewal of Marian spirituality and following his predecessor, spoke of Mary as a woman of the people who exercises a tender care for the poor, who in her virginity and motherhood illuminates God's creation of femininity and the noble destiny of Woman. He refers to her 'Magnificat' in like manner where she announces the liberation bestowed by God who puts the mighty down from their thrones, raises the lowly, feeds the hungry and sends the rich away empty, (cf Luke 1:45-55) She is a model of action, courage, initiative and perception. She gives birth to her Baby while homeless, escapes a murderous ruler, takes refuge in a foreign country, remains at the foot of the Cross on which her Son is unjustly executed and is there at the birth of His Church. The new Eve accompanies the new Adam, from the Annunciation, through His birth, the marriage at Cana, His passion and Death and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

It has been the Pope's practice to conclude his communications to the Church with a dedication to Mary.

A recent example is in 'Towards the Third Millennium' (1994) where he entrusts the Church's whole period of preparation to "'the unassuming young woman of Nazareth who, two thousand years ago, offered to the world the Incarnate Word". As in 'Veritatis Splendor' (1993), his encyclicals conclude with a typical prayer:

"O Mother of Mercy, watch over all people that the Cross of Christ may not be emptied of its power, that man may not stray from the path of good or become blind to sin but may put his hope ever more fully in God Who is rich in mercy. (Eph 2:4) May he carry out the good works prepared by God beforehand (cf Eph 2:10) and so live completely for the praise of His glory. (Eph 1:12)"

The ancient Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1) commemorates the Mother of the Lord in terms of doctrine and devotional inspiration: "In union with the whole Church we honour Mary, the ever-Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God." Similarly, Eucharistic Prayer 3 expresses our desire to share with Mary the eternal destiny God wishes for us: '"May He make us an everlasting gift to You (Father) and enable us to share in the inheritance of Your Saints with Mary, the Virgin Mother of God." From the rising of the sun to its going down, the daily commemoration at the heart of the Divine Sacrifice is offered as the most expressive form of veneration the Church can pay to the Blessed of the Most High, (cf Luke 1:28; 'Marialis Cultus',10)

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