Palm Sunday Benediction, 05.04.20: On Devotion to Our Lady
Devotion to Our Lady in the Roman Catholic tradition has always been very powerful, very present. It has gone through periods where there have been abuses, where Our Lady has been treated as if equal to Christ himself or even to the three Persons of the Trinity! That is clearly heretical and not in keeping with the true tradition of the Catholic Church.
Sometimes problems have come from an over-sentimentalisation of devotion to Our Blessed Mother. Those who have engaged in such have forgotten that we are a faith of the Word and that the Church us built on the Word of Christ and on the apostolic teaching which Christ Himself handed on to the apostles to hand down from generation to generation. Sentiment has its place, of course, but it cannot be a firm foundation. It waxes and wanes. Hence it is important for us to “rescue” Our Lady, if you like, from some of the misapprehensions and distortions which have been evident in Catholic practice across the two millennia of the Church’s existence.
So, where do we begin to get the sources of a true devotion to Our Lady? We find them in the Scriptures and, above all, in the person of Christ himself.
There are two important lines in the Gospel of Saint John, just before Christ gives up His life on the Cross. One of them is: “Jesus now knew that everything had been completed.” The other, which follows on immediately from that, is: “and to fulfil the Scriptures perfectly, He said, ‘I thirst.’” What preceded the words of John about “everything now having been completed”? The answer is that Jesus gave His Mother into the care of John, his beloved disciple, and John into the care of His Mother. After this exchange, everything was then “completed” in the eyes of Christ. Therefore the relationship between Mary and the disciple, represented by John, is part of Christ’s own understanding of the completion of His paschal mystery. It’s something which, as a last will and testament along, of course, with the Eucharist, which He gave us as a gift of his grace. It is this close relationship of love, based on the dying love of Christ, that Our Lady and the disciple were to have from now on.
Now some could say that, in this text of John, Jesus was only making practical arrangements for His Mother because He knew she would be bereft of His presence; she would have no family. And the text does indeed say that John made a place for her in his home. However, we must look at the other parts of John’s Gospel where the word “home” is used. Jesus says, for example, to the disciples, “make your home in me as I make mine in you.” He also asks us to “make your home in my word.” So, the word “home” as used in John’s Gospel is not just about practical arrangements. It’s something much profounder. It’s about the mutual union between Christ and the disciple, between Mary and the disciple, between Christ and Mary. It’s a union that is based on the Word and Will of the dying Christ. It is therefore a communion in truth (Word) and in love (Will) between the true followers of Jesus and the Mother of Jesus, Jesus Himself being at its centre.
And so devotion to Our Lady has to be seen within the context of the life and death of Christ. You will remember that, in the early life of Jesus, He was once “lost” in the Temple. Mary found Him and asked why He had treated Joseph and her in this way, by not telling them that he was staying on in Jerusalem. Jesus explains that He was about the Father’s business, but then the Gospel of Luke continues, “He went back to Nazareth and was subject to their authority.” Now clearly that was a parental authority: it was only there until Jesus came into His own. Even so, a parent always retains a profound influence on a child. The humanity of Jesus is also affected in this way.
And in fact we also see at Cana in Galilee that Mary enjoys a particular power of intercession and persuasion with her Son. Some people even say that she was able to get Christ to anticipate the beginning of His public ministry as He had intended it, to provide wine for this young couple at the wedding. Be that as it may, the words of Mary to the servants at the wedding were, “do whatever He tells you.” Remember that, at the Annunciation, the Word of God came to her and she, practising what she preached, obeyed that Word, did what it told her. She was obedient to the Word and thereby became the Mother of Jesus. Her motherhood has the reason for its existence in obedience to the Word. So, too, her intercession with Jesus will always be at the service of the Word and of obedience to it.
Jesus can therefore be absolutely certain that, where Mary is concerned, she will always be obedient to the Word of God and she will seek to make us obedient to it as well. She doesn’t have some alternative agenda or rival strategy to somehow take the place of Christ or whatever else. There’s none of that. The whole purpose of the presence and influence of Mary in the life of Christ Himself is to support Him in His obedience to the Father. From the Cross, Jesus knows that in giving John to Mary, she will make sure, as it were, that he and the other apostles who had abandoned their obedience when they abandoned Christ at Gethsemane will find their way back to it.
Christian devotion to Mary is ultimately rooted in Christ’s own devotion to Mary. The word “devotion”, of course, doesn’t mean worship. Christ does not worship his Mother, nor does He expect us to worship her. “Worship God alone”, Jesus said when He was tempted by Satan, so to worship Mary is way off the point, way off the mark. To be thus tempted is to be in danger of sin! But in devotion to Mary, the way a son is devoted to his mother, being respectful and affectionate and loving towards her, the life of Jesus is not just an example for us, but a norm for us to follow. And His norm was that He treated His Mother with great devotion. In His preaching you can see allusions to His Mother. Blessed, He says, are not so much the breasts that He suckled as those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Mary, next to Christ, was the first to do precisely that.
So, our devotion to Our Blessed Mother is first of all a devotion to her as the exemplary believing disciple, hearing the Word and obeying it. Our devotion to her is therefore also because her faith inspires and nurtures our faith. Her compassion towards her Son in His suffering is a teaching to us to learn compassion towards Him. She was the first and best of the disciples of Jesus. And so, being close to her teaches us how to be and how to do the same. Devotion to her as Mother is a precious gift of Christ to us, allowing us to share spiritually in His own deep covenant of love with the one chosen and prepared by the Trinity from all eternity to be the “ark of the covenant.”
Moreover, to put it in another way, Jesus does not live in a vacuum. Even now in glory, He is with all those who lived and died in fidelity to Him, all of the great saints and martyrs, all of the great mothers and fathers of the Church. But who more than Our Lady, in the first place, is with Him now because of her unique God-given grace of being immaculately conceived and assumed into heaven? There also St. Joseph, His foster father who is the Protector of the Church and to whom we have recourse whenever the Church is in trouble.
You don’t go to a friend’s home and then ignore everyone else who is in the house. You get to know them as well. Getting to know them even strengthens the bond of love between you and your friend because you get to know your friend in all of his relationships. The same is true of Christ and that great constellation of “stars”, you could say, of people who were faithful to Him even to the point of shedding their blood or of being faithful to Him into death in other ways.
Thus, for us to be devoted to our Blessed Mother is not only the will of Christ: it’s also to our own spiritual benefit. She who had at Cana, and still has now, a powerful force of intercession with her Son (by the very will of the Son Himself) to obtain from Him that He would manifest His glory in abundance in order to give life to the faith of the apostles, does the same for us. She intercedes for us with Christ that He will show His glory again, perhaps by an abundance of healing for the world during this pandemic and in a way that will strengthen our faith in His loving care for all of us.
So, as we now proceed to pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, meaning that we look at the Passion of Christ in the company of, through the eyes of and with the heart of Mary, we are asking her to be with the whole world tonight, not just with the Catholic Church, but with all of those who look to God for their salvation and for deliverance from their tribulations. We commend all of them to her motherly intercession and we ask her, of course, to be with us in our parishes here in Largs and Millport in a particular way, dedicated as they are to her as Star of the Sea and as Mother of Perpetual Succour.