7 Feb 2010
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
On this great Solemnity of Our Lady, I thought I’d go back to basics and explore briefly what it is we believe about Our Lady and the role that she continues to play in our lives.
I apologies in advance to those who are avid Marian devotees and to whom much of what I say will be familiar but I hope in charity that you will be pleased that I’m talking about someone you love greatly.
Mary was born in Nazareth of two saintly parents – St Joachim and St Ann – and was the most perfect human being every conceived; an Immaculate Conception; conceived free from original sin and full of grace so that she could provide an immaculate human nature worthy of Jesus. Jesus had no human father, his only human parent was the Blessed Virgin Mary and it was from Mary that Jesus took his human nature. She was chosen by God to be the mother of God – a title that goes back to the Council of Ephesus in the year 431.
Mary was chosen and asked by God to bring into the world the saviour of all humanity. Her humble “yes” to the angel Gabriel changed everything.
We repeat Gabriel’s greeting to Mary every time we say “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”
Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, wrote “She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin…. God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. Men have crowned all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her.”
Today the Church’s devotion to Mary is a major issue for Protestants, but it was a relatively minor issue for the Protestant Reformers. If Calvin, Luther, or Zwingli preached about Mary in a Protestant church today, the congregation would think it was a Catholic sermon.
Through scripture we catch glimpses of Mary as Jesus’ devoted mother and disciple but that is hardly a reasonable or complete reflection of the role Our Lady played in our Lord’s life. We know from the early Christian church that Mary was revered, treasured and deeply loved by the apostles and first disciples. Paintings in ancient Roman Catacombs, where the Christians used to hide and worship in secret to avoid being fed to the lions show the Blessed Virgin holding the Christ Child; and when they were excavating under the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and found the burial place of St Peter, they also discovered a very early fresco of Mary and Saint Peter together.
In our humanity we can have some idea of the love that Mary and Jesus shared as mother and son but it’s almost impossible to try and grasp the depth and fullness of their relationship as the Christ and the Mother chosen by God.
We don’t know much about Mary’s life after Jesus ascended to heaven but the Church professes that when Mary’s time on earth was over (probably about 10 years after the crucifixion) Mary died and her body was placed in a tomb, but her body didn’t decay on earth. Instead she was assumed into heaven by God to be with her son, body and soul.
Devotion to Mary has been part of Christian prayer since the earliest development of the Church and has waxed and waned in enthusiasm and popularity over the centuries.
Vatican II in the 20th century reaffirmed Mary’s importance in Catholic dogma and Mary as the Mother of the Church; the church’s role model in faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. The council also stressed that everything faith teaches us about Mary is intended to draw us nearer to Jesus and that Mary’s intercession and mediation on our behalf rests on the power of Christ, the one mediator between God and mankind.
We don’t worship or adore Mary – we cherish and love her.
There have been a remarkable number of reports of appearances of Mary over the last few hundred years but the Church is very cautious in endorsing the validity of these apparitions and only gives its approval after exhaustive scrutiny to discount the possibility of a hoax, or something brought about by perfectly natural causes or a supernatural event fostered by evil to ridicule or contradict the faith.
Three famous Marian apparitions that the Church has sanctioned are:
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal at the convent in Rue du Bac in Paris in 1830
Our Lady of Lourdes in France in 1858
Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal in 1917
In more recent times, Medjugorie which has not had formal Church sanction has become a very popular Marian shrine and it has been estimated that over 30 million pilgrims have travelled to Medjugorie since the appearances of Our Lady were first reported in 1981.
Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt is the second of the Seven Sorrows of Mary – a Marian devotion that has its origins in the 13th Century. The other Sorrows are: The prophecy of Simeon, Losing Jesus in the Temple, Meeting Jesus carrying the Cross, The Crucifixion, Receiving the dead body of her Son and the Burial of her Son and Closing of the Tomb.
With the start of Lent only ten days away, we might like to consider a Marian devotion as part of our daily Lenten prayer.
It is not necessary as Catholic to be devoted to Mary but when we do not invoke her special intercession, we miss a valuable opportunity for grace to grow in Christ.