The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life
"Chapter VIII: The Necessity and Extent of Devotion to Mary"
GOOD Catholics sometimes wonder how much attention they ought to give to Mary in their prayers and other religious practices. They do not put the question so mathematically as to ask what percentage of a holy hour, for example, should be devoted to prayers to Mary, for if the question were stated in that way it might imply that prayers to Mary are said at the expense of devotion to her Son-which would be ridiculous. If our devotion to Mary were to take away anything from devotion to Him, it would have to be rejected. But such is not the case. To discover the correct answer to the question, we need to recall what place God Himself has assigned to Mary in His plans, for surely, we can do no better than to imitate His ways. Accordingly, it might be profitable to sum up briefly the conclusions we have reached in our study of the dogmatic truths about Mary.
From all eternity God had laid his plans for Mary. The Church in her liturgy often applies to Mary a beautiful and fitting passage from the Old Testament:
Of course the Church does not mean to tell us that Mary always existed. Since God, however, had in mind from all eternity each creature that He planned to make, then, for the greater reason, He must have planned for this most excellent of all mere creatures, and decided all the graces and favors He would lavish on her.
He planned in advance to make her the associate of the Redeemer, for at the time of the fall of our first parents He at once promised the Redeemer, and spoke of a "woman" who, being at enmity with the serpent, would share in the struggle and in the victory against the enemy of mankind.2 He already had in mind to provide a New Eve as well as a New Adam. He planned that the New Eve should be conceived immaculate, by the anticipated application to her of the merits of her Son.
On the day of the Annunciation God sent a great archangel to honor her in His own name. He decreed that the Incarnation should take place only after asking her consent, only at her fiat. He decreed that although His time had not yet come, the Son should nonetheless work His first miracle at her request at Cana of Galilee. He decreed that on Calvary Mary should stand, not as a mere spectator, but as the one who had furnished the flesh in which the Victim would be offered, as one joining in the sentiments of the heart of the Victim, so that with Him and through Him one joint offering should be made to the Father. He decreed that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit should be given to the newborn Church through her mighty prayers. He decreed that, after the end of her earthly life, she should be taken up to Heaven in body as well as in soul, there to be crowned Queen of all, and to distribute absolutely all graces to men. Finally, according to a prophecy of St. Louis de Montfort,3 God has planned that just as Christ came to us the first time through Mary, so also His second coming will be preceded by an age of Mary.4 Many scripture scholars think this fact is also foretold in the mysterious vision of St. John in the Apocalypse in which he saw a woman clothed with the sun.5 For it seems probable that the woman represents both Mary and the Church, indicating thereby that the Church is to take on an especially Marian character during the age before the second coming of her Son.
To sum up, we can see that the place God has given to Mary is all-embracing: her influence appears throughout every phase of the Redemption, from its first prophecy in Eden to the distribution of the last graces at the end of time and the coming of the Son of Man to judgment.
Mary, of course, was not necessary to God, still, although the merits of the Redeemer alone were infinite and superabundant, so that He alone would more than suffice without the help of Mary or of any other saint, God freely willed to associate Mary most intimately with Jesus both in the acquisition of all graces and in their distribution. It is perfectly true that, in the nature of things, God could have done well without Mary. Nevertheless, He has made it abundantly clear that He actually wishes to employ Mary as His inseparable associate and helper in the work of our redemption. So when we ask how much attention we ought to give to Mary, what place we should assign to her, the answer is: If we wish to imitate the ways of God as perfectly as we can, we will try to give her an all-pervading place in our lives.
If our attention to her detracted at all from the honor of her Son, we should have to ignore her completely. But the truth is that whatever honor we pay to Mary redounds to the glory of her Son, and whatever good works we give to Mary, we offer through her, for she passes them all on to Him. As St. Louis de Montfort expresses this truth:
He who uses Mary to go to Jesus, imitates Jesus Himself, who used and still uses Mary to come to us. Furthermore, the act of humility implied in not willing to approach Him alone, but only in the company of Mary, pleases Him greatly. For humility is one of the virtues which, as we shall see,7 most effectively draws down the favor of God on us.
Someone may object that if we never pray except through Mary, we are excluded from intimacy with Our Lord, His heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit. To answer this difficulty we must note that there are two ways in which we might understand the expression "to pray through Mary": 1. We pray through Mary when we, as it were, come to her and make our prayer, and ask that she convey it to God for us: in this way we do not speak directly to God; or, 2. We speak directly to God Himself, but relying on the intercession of Mary for the granting of our prayer, since all graces come through her. Even when we pray in this second way, although it is very good, it is not required that we expressly ask her intercession each time: the invocation of Mary is at least implicit in every request for a favor, since everyone who prays rightly intends to ask in accordance with the order of salvation which God has established.8 In this order, as we have seen, God intends to grant nothing except through Mary. It is dear that we may and should use both methods, according as the occasion and the inspirations of grace suggest. Thus we see that to pray through Mary not only does not detract from our intimacy with God, but promotes it, for we can approach God our Father, and Christ our Brother, and the Holy Spirit with all the more confidence in the company of the Mother of God, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.
But it is not only through abstract principles that we see that devotion to Mary promotes the honor of her Son; history teaches the same lesson. For the greatest devotion to Mary is found in the greatest saints, while Protestantism, which began by rejecting Mary, has now, in some of its branches, rejected the divinity of her Son. Since God distributes no graces without Mary, and since the majority of Protestants ignore Mary, are they thereby deprived of all grace? Certainly not. Mary is a good Mother-she obtains various graces for all sorts of men for which they have not prayed at all. And so she will pray even for those who ignore her, provided they are in good faith. In this connection we may also recall that, as stated above, anyone who prays well, at least implicitly calls on Mary, whether or not he realizes that fact. But, of course, the more fully one falls in line with God's plan of the distribution of all graces through Mary, the more he pleases God, and the more grace he will receive.
But, one may object, if Mary's intercession is so universal, what becomes of the other saints? Are they not then useless? Are we not taught to believe in the Communion of Saints? The answer is quite easy. We have noted above that, strictly speaking, in view of the boundless treasures of the merits of Christ, God could have left Mary out altogether. Merely because His goodness wished it, however, He has so arranged things that He uses Mary's co-operation in all stages of the Redemption. The case is somewhat similar with the saints. Strictly speaking, God could do without them, just as He could do without Mary. Yet it is idle to speak of what God could do but does not do; the important thing is to find what He actually does. What He does is this: He has freely willed thee we should make use of the intercession of the saints as well as of Mary, with this difference: Mary's intercession is always at work, her realm is universal, while the domain of any ocher seine is limited, and, in a way, occasional. Therefore we not merely may, but should, pay honor to various saints, our patron saints, the patron of our school, of our parish, and various others according to our own position, wishes, and needs. When we ask a favor through one of the other saints, that saint, whether or not we ask him to do so, will not ask it without the aid of the intercession of Mary, for, as we have seen, it is God's will thee no graces should be given except through her.
Furthermore, the type of honor we pay to Mary is not merely of a higher degree than the honor we pay to other saints: it is of a higher kind. For the honor given to the saints in general is called dulia, while that paid to Mary is called hyperdulia.9 The reason for the distinction is this: Mary, by being Mother of God, belongs to the hypostatic order; the other saints do not.10
Especially do we rely on Mary's protection and help to obtain for us that grace which the Council of Trent calls the great gift: the gift of final perseverance, which alone is sufficient and necessary to make our death a happy death. Now the age-old tradition of the Church tells us that anyone who is devoted to Mary will obtain this most necessary gift. Not that one could practice some devotion to Mary and then, relying on it for safety, live a sinful or careless life. No, such a "devotion" would really be not devotion but presumption. St. Alphonsus and many another saint and Doctor of the Church tell us that it is morally impossible for anyone who is really devout to Mary to be lost. We shall have more to say on this subject in our treatment of the Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel.11 For the present, lee us listen to the solid and authoritative assurance given us by the words of Pope Benedict XV that our trust in Mary to obtain this great gift for us is well founded:
Even more striking are the words of Pope Pius XI:
Pope Pius XI not merely made his own the opinion that we may justifiably put our trust in Mary's help to obtain final perseverance, but he enlarged on the theme, pointing out that actual experience throughout all ages has confirmed its truth. It is the view of both the laity and of the Doctors and saints of the Church. And its support is most solid: Mary shared in the work of Redemption. Since it was with her co-operation that every grace, including the grace of final perseverance, was earned for all, it is logical that we should with the greatest confidence seek thee grace at her hands.
Hence we can now see that devotion to Mary is not to be considered as optional or as a luxury item in the spiritual life. At lease a certain basic filial devotion to Mary is a necessity, even for salvation (unless, of course, one is excused by ignorance). This follows from the fact that God has made Mary the constant subordinate helper of His Divine Son throughout all the work of the Redemption, so that He dispenses no graces except through her. No one can say thee he loves the Son who ignores the Mother. Certainly it would be a great disorder for anyone to go directly contrary to the plans of God and neglect Mary. Pope Leo XIII expressed this idea with special force when he said:
Of course, as we have already said, it is not necessary that we ask explicitly for the intercession of Mary each time we pray.
Most Catholics, even those whose devotion to Mary is not especially strong, have learned an excellent prayer, which is a good means of showing the soul's desire to correspond with the plans of God for Mary. It is the morning offering of the Apostleship of Prayer, which begins:
It is to be recommended that every Catholic make some such offering as this at lease at times. Just as God has willed to give all to us through Mary, so, by such an offering, we give whatever we have to offer back to Him through Mary.
Marian devotion begins most naturally in the home. Parents can confer a priceless favor on their children if from earliest years they teach them to take a childlike attitude to God our Father and Mary our Mother. A child's very notion of the meaning of the words father and mother depends largely on what sore of persons its parents are. If the parents are all that they should be, children easily learn to look upon God as the best of fathers, and to love Mary their Mother. An outstanding example of the powerful good influence of parental example of this kind can be seen in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux. On the other hand, the poor example of parents, or the lack of good example, is a spiritual hindrance to the children. In this connection we should point out that if parents for a great part of the time give their children into the hands of baby-sitters, the children can easily learn to think of father and mother as persons who do not wish to be bothered. Such children are handicapped in forming a correct idea of the Fatherhood of God and the Motherhood of Mary.
Are all souls obliged to adopt a form of spirituality in which they enter into special intimacy with Mary, so that they live in ever increasing consciousness of her presence, call on her lovingly in everything, and do everything to please her? Definitely no. There are legitimate differences in spiritual attractions on this point.15 Those whose devotion to Mary is of a less intimate kind can not only grow in holiness, but can even become saints. Even in these souls, however, devotion to Mary will necessarily grow as they advance in grace, even though it does not take the intimate form.16
Within the area of specially Marian forms of spirituality there are many degrees and variations. The most complete form of Marian spirituality calls for a total consecration, such as that of St. Louis de Montfort,17 but even within this realm some souls reach more advanced degrees than others, as St. Louis himself remarks.18 To attain the highest and closest form of intimacy with Mary, the special action of the Holy Spirit, received through the Gifts, is needed; for it is this Divine Spirit, the Spouse of Mary, who produces in the most thoroughly Marian souls a truly Christlike love for the Mother of Christ.19
Although it is possible for souls to reach sanctity by paths that do not involve dose intimacy with Mary, yet the more thoroughly Marian the way, the greater the advantages for a soul. Speaking of the total consecration, St. Louis de Montfort wrote:
Souls that walk in this Marian path go by a way that is shorter, easier, safer, surer, and yet more perfect and more meritorious than those who do not.21 In this our day, the age of Mary,22 this privilege of a thoroughly Marian life is being given to a great many souls. May God grant it abundantly to us.