How Can We Be Devoted to the Mother of God?
Devotion to Mary has been a hallmark of Catholic spirituality for centuries. In fact, we can see the beginnings of it even in Scripture. There are a number of pivotal scenes in the Bible that establish the legitimacy of Marian devotion. To begin with, the Gospel of Saint Luke records that after the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary announcing God’s choice of her as the Mother of His Son, she went quickly to see her relative Elizabeth. Upon their meeting, Elizabeth spoke of Mary in terms that Catholics would later adopt: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” (Luke 1:42). Mary then sang a prayer, called the “Magnificat,” in which she stated that “from now on will all ages call me blessed,” (Luke 1:48). In the centuries and millennia since, these prophetic statements have been borne out by Christians - and especially by Catholics - in their devotions to Mary.
Mary's Extraordinary Role
Mary is mentioned as being among the women who accompany Our Lord during His public ministry. In fact, it was she who prompted Jesus to perform His first public miracle, during the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-12). Mary’s final words recorded in all of the four Gospels are in this scene, in which she tells the servers at the wedding: “Do whatever he tells you,” (John 2:5). This is quite a fitting message for her to leave us with! Finally, and quite significantly, Mary appears at the foot of the cross on Good Friday (John 19:25-27), at which point Jesus gives her to John, and in a mystical sense, to the entire Church, to be our Mother. Mary is also present at the very beginnings of the Church, after Her Son’s death and Resurrection. It is said that Mary was with the Apostles when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
From these scenes it is clear that the Virgin Mary has always been a pivotal part of Catholic life. Even still, it is helpful for us to ask about the role that Mary plays in the Church. How does Marian devotion affect our relationship with God? Non-Catholic denominations sometimes claim that devotion to Mary is superfluous, and that all you need is Jesus. While it is true that Jesus is the one mediator (see 1 Timothy 2:5), that does not prevent the possibility of there being other, human, mediators between Christ and the individual. For example, God used human authors to compose and compile the books of the Bible. So also He uses a human person (Mary) to distribute His graces to the world.
Why would God use Mary as a special instrument? A mother is the one person in all the world who is closest to her children. Who else but a mother can know the feeling of holding her child in her body from the very first moment of his existence? A mother is with the child all throughout his life, as Mary was with Jesus. As truly man, Jesus had a truly human mother, and He loved his mother with just as great, in fact a greater, love than the rest of us love our mothers. As the first disciple, and one without original sin, Mary was always perfectly conformed to God’s Will. She did, and continues to, point others to Christ.
This is where some confusion may arise. It is a misunderstanding to think that devotion to Mary detracts from our love for God. We do not honor Mary instead of God. Rather, we honor God through honoring Mary. Her only goal is to lead us to Her Son. Because she is fully a human being, she can relate to us in our struggles. She is a bridge between God and man. Devotion to Jesus focuses on His love for us, while devotion to Mary focuses on her love for God, and using her life as an example for us to follow in becoming closer to Christ.
Devotions to Mary
So how do we practice and manifest devotion to Mary concretely, in our daily lives? The most obvious way is by praying the Rosary. In the Rosary, we follow the events of Christ’s life through the eyes of His Mother, who knew Him better than any other human being did. The Rosary is grouped into four sets of mysteries (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, Glorious), each set containing five events in the life of Christ and the early Church. While we repeat the ten Hail Marys of each decade, we meditate on the events of that decade. This gives us a “mother’s-eye-view” of Jesus’ human life, and gives us a greater appreciation of His love for us.
A slight variation on the Rosary, one which was popularized by the Servite order, is known as the “Seven Sorrows Rosary.” Instead of five decades of ten, we pray seven groups of seven Hail Marys. The seven sorrows of Mary - some of which overlap with some of the mysteries of the Rosary - focus on the pain and suffering that Mary had to endure as part of her role as the Mother of God. Since Jesus was a man of suffering, (see Isaiah 53:3), it is fitting that His Mother, as the perfect disciple, participate in His redemptive suffering in a unique way. When we meditate on her sufferings, she brings us closer to Her Son in His suffering, and thus closer to the source of our salvation.
A third important devotion to Mary is the “First Saturdays” devotion. This involves going to Confession, receiving Holy Communion, praying the Rosary, and meditating on the Rosary for fifteen minutes on the first Saturday of the month for five consecutive months. In doing so, we make reparations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
These are just the most popular of devotions to Mary, but they are crucial in developing a well-rounded and fruitful spirituality.
The Marian Feasts of August
The month of August is an especially beneficial time for us to renew our devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for there are two important Marian feasts that occur in this month. August 15th is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Although it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, Mary’s assumption, body and soul, into heaven at the end of her life was infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950. The Church recognizes that as the first disciple, Mary was fittingly taken body and soul into heaven, without having to endure any cleansing in purgatory. This day is celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church, meaning that we are required to attend Mass on this day. Another important Marian feast around this time is the Feast of the Queenship of Mary on August 22. As the Mother of the King of Heaven, Mary is rightly called the Queen of heaven, for in ancient Israel it was the King’s mother who was given the title of Queen. Thus Mary reigns with her Son in heaven, as the one who brings mankind’s petitions to the King, and grants us our requests.
In conclusion, since the Church has long held that devotion to Mary is the surest way to unity with Christ, we would do well to foster this devotion through prayer and acts of love to Mary. She is our mother as well as Christ’s, and she wants nothing more than to lead us, her children, to Her Son. That is what she did while on earth, and that is what she continues to do in heaven. So let us take advantage of the great gift that God has given us by giving us His own Mother as our intercessor in heaven, and ask for her to help us on our way to greater love for God the Father.