A reader tries to figure out the Mary thing in Catholic piety

He writes:

Hi Mark – In the midst of my ever-expanding library of books on Catholic theology, yours have truly stood out in the form of Mary, Mother of the Son. Your sense of humor shines through, never feels forced, and has really been a comfort to my soul as I try to work out my salvation with a decent amount of fear and trembling.

Thank you!  I’m glad it has been helpful!  Thanks be to God through Christ our Lord.

Like so many others before me, I had a run-in with the Church Fathers not long after graduating college.

Another testimony to Newman’s adage that “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”  I’ve been there! 😊

A few years later, I now find myself on a faith journey that started in the Bible Belt (Southern Baptist), made a scenic detour through the Midwest (Lutheranism), and appears to be headed toward Rome.

Welcome!  It’s far from perfect, but it’s family!

While I still occasionally grapple with the Church’s teachings on justification and the sacrificial nature of the Mass, one area that I cannot seem to make headway on is devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and its many forms.

A very common experience for us cultural Protestants.  But it gets better.

I don’t have an issue with the Marian Dogmas. I’ve even started praying the Rosary.

Good.  A common and normal starting place (though not the only one). 😊

But it seems like every time I get to the point where I feel at peace with the Church’s teachings on Mary, I see a video similar to one on YouTube where Father Gruner claims “if anyone wants to go to heaven… they can’t get there without devotion to Our Lady.”

Gruner was a dangerous crank and you need not put your soul in the dock of his courtroom in the slightest.  He’s just this guy, not the Magisterium and not appointed by God to sit in judgment of you.  Beware priests with conspiracy theories.  His was that the Holy See was controlled by the Soviet Union.  He was right suspended.  Unfortunately, devotees of Fatima often tend to go for this Traditionalist conspiracy theory nonsense—a tendency that has gone into overdrive since the election of Pope Francis.  If you pray along with the Church in her ordinary devotions to Our Lady (which you can’t not do in the liturgy) you are doing what Jesus said to do when he told you “Behold your Mother.”  There’s no need to pass some high-pressure piety test from the uber-Catholics.

Or I try reading True Devotion to Mary and can’t comprehend how it would ever be acceptable to be called a “slave to Mary.”

Remember: devotional literature is the language of love, not law.  There are a million love songs that use the imagery of bondage and slavery to express love.  Receive it in that spirit, and though it may not scratch where you itch, it can make De Montfort’s rather florid piety intelligible, if not appealing to you.  And that’s okay.  You don’t have to like de Montfort.  You can simply read him as expressive of a particular flavor of Marian piety that was once all the rage in his day.  The whole point of the Church’s immense diversity in devotional literature is that you are, in fact, free to find what works for you and leave the rest for somebody else.

Or I run across (yet another) church consecrating itself to Mary.

Churches consecrate themselves to all manner of saints besides Mary.  The point is not that the saint is worshipped, but that his or her prayers are asked of the saint and the saint’s particular charism or mission is sought as something in the spirit of “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.

Can you shed any additional light on how you were able to navigate the many forms of devotion to Mary on your journey toward the Church?

I look at it as a smorgasbord.  There’s no law involved.  There’s a wealth different ways ordinary Catholics have sought to relate to and interact with Mary as their mother, their sister, their fellow disciple, their role model, their hero, their intercessor, etc. There is no Correct Way.  There’s no pressure.  She was given to us by Our Lord as the last gift he gave us before departing this life.  You are the Beloved Disciple.  So take her into your home as your mother and talk to her as you would your mother, friend, older sister, etc.  Start there and start small.  You don’t have to make anything happen. If you don’t feel like you know what you are doing, experiment with one of the many set prayers the Tradition offers.  But don’t treat it like a law, but like music practice.  The idea is to be able to inhabit the form and make it your own in relationship to her, not to obey a rigid law. And remember, according to St. Paul, when it comes to prayer, none of us knows who to do it. That’s why the Spirit has to intercede for us.

In particular, can you share your perspective on Marian Consecration? More broadly, can you comment on the theory of Mary (e.g. what must be believed about Mary) verses application (e.g. how Marian beliefs actually play out in Catholic life)?

Marian Consecration (which I have done, by the way) is one of a thousand ways to try to live out imitation of the Model Disciple.  The idea, yet again, is “Imitate Mary as she imitates Christ” and to see relationship with her as you would seek it with any admirable disciple.  The Church in heaven is still the Church, just as the Church on earth is.  So just as we try to learn from and imitate those Christians here on earth who follow Jesus, so in heaven.  Mary is Jesus’ greatest disciple so we have a lot to profit from here and her motherly friendship. And, of course, the first thing we have to learn is “Do whatever he tells you.”

The idea of our relationship with the saints is one of maximal, not minimal, relationship.  Paul boasts of the “riches of our inheritance in the saints” in Ephesians.  They are gifts to us from Jesus.  We needn’t approach them with timidity and should receive them with gusto.  You are the last person on earth to fall into worship of Mary, so don’t be afraid you will.  Instead, accept the gift she is with relish and confidence, because Jesus gave you the gift and therefore there is nothing to fear.  Try, perhaps, reading the Psalms through the eyes of Mary as she contemplates her Son in light of them and the Psalms in light of him.  What might she make of them.  Ask her to show you, so that you might follow her Son better.

Just an idea.

Thank you so much for your work. God Bless!

And you!


One Response

  1. > Or I run across (yet another) church consecrating itself to Mary.
    Mary is a very non-controversial saint to which you can consecrate a church. Neither liberals, nor rad-trads will have any problem with a church being consecrated to Mary. For example, nobody will point and say that there is a saint who is more worthy of being venerated.
    I know this is a very painfully pragmatic point of view, but it’s really difficult to avoid in troubled times.

    > Beware priests with conspiracy theories. His was that the Holy See was controlled by the Soviet Union.
    Oh, wow. How on Earth would you believe a theory like that, considering that the Soviet Union planned the attempted assassination of John Paul II. Acting through East German STASI and Bulgarian KDS to prevent implicating Moscow, it was undertaken to look as though it was a solely German initiative subcontracted to Bulgaria due to their proximity to the Middle East where they would seek out a professional killer who could be portrayed as being religiously motivated and would not divulge any details in interrogation. Ağca’s actions before and after the assassination would support that theory and intellectuals blindly sympathizing with Moscow would discredit any attempts at placing blame with the Soviet Union.

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