Tag Archives: Mariology

138. Marian Prayers As Shapers of Roman Catholic Theology and Practice

June 1st, 2017

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book by Leonardo De Chirico, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Mary: the Mother of God? (Christian Focus).

Mariology is not a peripheral part of spiritual life for many religious people around the world. Intertwined with lofty dogmatic definitions, it is the practice of devotional and popular Marianism that largely defines the religious experience of many Roman Catholic faithful who pray to her and are devoutly committed to her. The Catechism goes as far as saying that “the Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship” (971). It also implies that when dealing with Marian devotion, one touches a central nerve of the whole of Christian spirituality, not something that can be dealt with independently. So far, in looking at the development of Mariology throughout the centuries, and the incremental theological significance attached to it, the focus has been both historical and theological. At this point, we want to concentrate on the manifold aspects of Marian devotions to appreciate their phenomenological variety, religious depth, and social pervasiveness in people’s lives.

Prayers

Prayer to Mary is what quintessentially defines Marian spirituality. Mary is perhaps the most invoked figure in many religious quarters. As an acclaimed mother, she is movingly sought by those seeking help and strength. As she is eminently given veneration, she is approached with reverence and awe. As she is magnified with extravagant titles, she has centre stage in peoples’ hearts.

An entry point into the world of Marian prayers is the collection put together by Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787). Liguori, an Italian Catholic bishop who was proclaimed saint in 1839 and eventually Doctor of the Church in 1871, spent many years gathering the best material on Mary he could find from various sources that were used in the liturgical practice of the church.[1] In his book, Liguori explains that Mary is “our life, our sweetness and our hope,” and goes on to argue that Mary’s intercession on our behalf is powerful to the point of enabling sinners to regain the state of grace. Mary can be approached confidently because she can obtain for us from her divine Son anything she asks for. Moreover, devotion to her is a most certain mark of eternal salvation. This book has been shaping Marian devotions since becoming the reference point for subsequent Mariological reflection. Against the background of such deep theological and devotional vision, the list of prayers mirrors a Marian-centred spirituality: “Hail Holy Queen”, “Regina Coeli” (Queen of Heaven), and “Ave Maris Stella” (Hail Star of Ocean) are only few of the most common and popular Marian prayers.

Rosary

Another significant form of Marian prayer is related to the Rosary. The word rosary means “crown of roses”. The conviction behind this expression is that Mary has revealed to several people that each time they say a “Hail Mary” they are giving her a rose and each complete Rosary makes her a crown of roses. The rose is the queen of flowers, and so the rosary is the rose of all devotions and therefore the most important one. The Holy Rosary is considered a perfect prayer because within it is the awesome story of salvation retold in a way that highlights Mary’s central role in redemption. With the Rosary, devotees meditate on the mysteries of joy, sorrow, and the glory of Jesus and Mary, thus internalizing the blurred analogy between Mary and the Son.[2] Gone is the story of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection as the Bible tells it. Instead, the Rosary is a powerful tool to shape one’s own imagination in terms of the pervasive presence and agency of Mary in whatever the Triune God is and does. The whole orientation of Roman Catholic “biblical theology” is inherently Marian, in that Mary is thought of as sharing the prerogatives and roles of the Son.

Marian devotions profoundly shape the life of prayer, religious arts, the arrangement of sacred space and time, the imaginations and emotions of people, even becoming a reference point in mapping global territory. In all its theological force and devotional ramifications, Mariology is an inescapable, all-embracing, and fundamental tenet of Roman Catholic theology and practice. Moreover, it is a deeply troubling development because it is impossible to see a linear and coherent connection between this Marian devotion and the more sobering account of what the Bible actually says about Mary.

 

[1] Part of this collection can be found in St. Alphonsus Liguori, Hail Holy Queen. An Explanation of the Salve Regina (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publ., 1995).

[2] A full explanation of the significance of the Rosary can be found in John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter  Rosarium Virginis Mariae (2002): https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/2002/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae.html.

    87. The Marian Message of Pope Francis to Korea

    August 22nd, 2014

    The Papal visit to Korea (August 13th-18th, 2014) was his first trip to Asia and many commentators have already highlighted different geo-political aspects of it. Asia is one of the most promising regions in the world for the Roman Catholic in terms of potential growth. This is the reason why Pope Francis will visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January of 2015. Asia is inevitably related to China, where there is an on-going diplomatic challenge for the Vatican and its prudent attempt to deal with the Chinese government and the unsettled situation of Christian churches there. This is why Francis extensively spoke on the theme of “dialogue” and the fact that Christians in no way intend to “invade” anyone or any place. He was in Korea but certainly had China in the back of his mind and wanted to send a message there as well. Korea itself is a divided nation and the Pope addressed the painful memories and the reality of the separation between North and South Korea. On a more symbolic level, Asia is also very evocative for Jesuits in general. Five centuries ago Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was the first Jesuit to go to China, and so the Jesuit Pope also feels the Asian attraction that is typical of many Jesuits.

    Geo-political considerations aside, there were two main spiritual emphases of the visit: the usual Marian framework of Pope Francis and the elaboration of his missional view as far as the discipline of dialogue is concerned. This File concentrates on the first item while another one will deal with the second.

    Mary, Mother of Korea

    The Papal visit coincided with the Asian Youth Day but most importantly with the solemn celebration of the assumption of Mary, body and soul, into the glory of heaven (August 15th). This Marian dogma was promulgated in 1950 and fits very well the overall spirituality of Pope Francis. In his homily during the celebration he invited the Korean audience “to contemplate Mary enthroned in glory beside her divine Son”. He called Mary “Mother of the Church in Korea” asking her help “to be faithful to the royal freedom we received on the day of our Baptism”. The queenly glory of Mary was coupled with the motherhood of Mary for the whole nation of Korea. Although the Bible teaches that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1), it was Mary that was presented to the faithful as an ever ready helper on the spiritual journey.

    In praising Mary, the Pope went on to say that “In her, all God’s promises have been proved trustworthy”. Actually, the Bible says that “all the promises of God find their Yes in Him”, i.e. in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). This is an example of how the logic of Catholic Mariology works its way through: it takes what belongs to Christ and extends it to his mother, although the Bible does not prescribe nor does it allow such an extension to take place.

    The final invocation was also telling: “And now, together, let us entrust your Churches, and the continent of Asia, to Our Lady, so that as our Mother she may teach us what only a mother can teach: who you are, what your name is, and how you get along with others in life. Let us all pray to Our Lady”. Again, the motherhood of Mary was strongly emphasized to the point of attributing the discovery of our identity to her instead of Christ in whom we are saved and through whom we have received a new name. In so doing Mary joins Christ with the risk of taking his place.

    Obtaining the Grace of Perseverance?

    A final comment on the Mariology of the Papal visit is in order. During the Mass for the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs (August 16th), Francis ended his homily with these words: “May the prayers of all the Korean martyrs, in union with those of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, obtain for us the grace of perseverance in faith and in every good work, holiness and purity of heart, and apostolic zeal in bearing witness to Jesus in this beloved country, throughout Asia, and to the ends of the earth”. The idea is that the prayers of those whom the Church proclaims to be blessed “obtain for us the grace of perseverance”. Perseverance seems to be a human “work” that is obtainable through the efforts of the living and the dead.

    In returning to Rome, after the long flight from Korea, Pope Francis stopped on his way to the Vatican at the basilica of Saint Mary Major, the largest Marian church in Rome, to thank Mary for the successful results of his trip to Asia. Saint Mary Major was the first church the Pope ever visited after becoming Pope and the dedication of his pontificate to Mary was the first official act of his reign. This church and what it represents is very dear to the him. The point is that Francis’ seemingly biblical language and “evangelical” attitude is always thought of and lived out in a thoroughly Marian framework, in both Rome and Korea alike.

      80. “Without Mary the Heart is an Orphan”. Another Instance of Francis’ Marianism

      May 16th, 2014

      Francis’ Marian devotion is one of the defining marks of his spirituality. From his very first acts as Pope to his daily speeches and practices, traditional Marian theology is basic to his Catholic worldview. To evangelical ears his language may at times seem Christ-centered and mission-oriented, but these apparent gospel emphases are always organically related to a strong Marianism that envelops the Pope’s religious narrative and experience. The latest example of his profound Marianism occurred in a meeting with the seminarians in Rome on May 13th. In answering their questions on various topics, the Pope made some interesting comments on the Marian framework that undergirds his theology of the Christian life.

      Under the Mantle of the Holy Mother of God

      Commenting on the need for vigilance in times of personal turmoil, Francis evokes the counsel of the Russian Fathers to run “under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God”. This Marian protection – the Pope recalls – is also part of the liturgy whereby the faithful declare to find refuge under the “presidium” (haven) of Mary: “sub tuum presidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix”. So, for a priest not to pray to Mary in times of difficulty is for him to be like an “orphan”. When in trouble the first thing a child does is look for his mother, so too should it happen in the spiritual realm. The mediatorial work of Jesus Christ and his total understanding of our needs (the whole point of Hebrews 1-2 and 4:14-16) is here totally overlooked and is instead subsumed under the protection of Mary who is the caring mother of those seeking help. Whereas the Psalmist can cry “For God alone, o my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him” (Psalm 62:8), Francis’ advice is to seek the “mantle” of Mary.

      The Pope then goes on to underline the link between the motherhood of Mary and the motherhood of the Church. According to him, those who have a “good relationship” with Mary will be helped to have a “good relationship” with the Church and even with their own souls. All three have a “feminine element” which connects them in a transitive and motherly way. Again there is strong emphasis on motherhood that runs through the Mariological worldview. Those who do not have a good relationship with Mary (assuming that this means praying to her, trusting her and seeking her help) are like “orphans”. The Bible, however, teaches that a good relationship with the Church is made possible only through the head of the Church, that is Jesus Christ, and this comes through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). Francis, on the other hand, has a “motherly” way of getting that relationship right.

      Either Mother or Mother-in-Law!

      At this point the Pope recalls an episode that happened to him while visiting a family in Northern Europe thirty years ago. The members of the family were practicing Catholics and full of enthusiasm for Christ (perhaps influenced by the Protestant culture of their region?). In a conversation they said: “We have discovered Christ and – thank God – we have passed the stage of Madonna. We don’t need her any longer”. “No”, replied the saddened Bergoglio: “This is not a mature faith. Forgetting the mother is always a bad thing, not a sign of maturity”. Again, the question arises: is finding Christ and him alone a step towards or away from Christian maturity?

      The last comment concerning this question seems more like a humorous joke. In wrapping up his Marian reflection, Francis concludes by saying “If you don’t want Mary as a mother, she will become your mother-in-law!” An intriguing way of further expanding the motherhood metaphor in non biblical directions.  

      The point is that pope Francis believes that a Mariologically-free or even Mariologically-light faith is an orphan-like and immature faith. The real question is whether or not a Christ-centered and mission-oriented faith should focus on Christ instead of intermingling the Gospel with various motherhood ideas that obscure it.