Mary
Part 7 Conclusions

Chapter 71 Conclusions

1. We pray to God.  God is one. As Christians, we pray to the God to whom Jesus prayed.

1a -- In the olden days when I was studying theology I learned that the Second Council of Nicea (787) taught that the Greek word latria (Latin: adoratio; English: adoration) was to be used for those acts of worship due to God alone. Everybody and everything else got something less, dulia in Greek, honor in English.   Mary received a special dulia that was somewhat better than the rest, but it was still dulia and not latria. I could adore or worship God; but I did not adore or worship saints, or statues of saints, sacred trees, rocks or anything else.

1b -- I find that these distinctions of language (and thought) have been very useful, even if they have disappeared in the ordinary vocabulary of many Christians. Some Catholics find it as easy to "adore" Mary as some Protestants find it easy to condemn the "adoration" of Mary. But more importantly:

1c -- I find it regrettable that we do not have a similar distinction with regard to the words "pray" and "prayer." We pray to God. We pray to Mary. Most Christians would say that the word "pray" has a very different meaning in each of those sentences. Roman Catholics have become so accustomed to use the word "pray" with non-God persons that they don't see much (any) difference.

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2. God is greater than all that is not God. Any good quality or positive virtue that a creature possesses is a reflection of the goodness of the Creator. Creatures do not have "good qualities" that are "better than" God's.

2a -- If Mary is compassionate, kind, understanding, merciful, mother of us all, etc. it is because the God who created her is compassionate, kind, understanding, merciful, mother of us all, etc. Anything [to put it crassly] that Mary "has" God "has" more of. Many Catholics are very comfortable calling Mary Mother of all the Living, Mother of the Church, etc., and at the same time are very uncomfortable calling God Mother.

2b -- When Mary is honored (prayed to, adored, worshiped, etc.) because she has things that God doesn't, or that she can do things that God can't, we not in line with the best of Catholic tradition. [For example: "O Loving Mother, my sins are too great and numerous for a just God to forgive. I turn to you for only a loving Mother can forgive me.]

2c -- Many medieval stories about Mary and devotion to Mary are alive and well in modern form. For example, the story of the man who hated God and blasphemed the trinity but would not blaspheme Mary, she preserved him from the wrath of God and brought him into heaven.

2d -- Perhaps an analysis of what popular devotion says about the divine attributes of Mary can provide us with a clue to what is missing in our preaching and catechesis about who God is for us.

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3. Mary is not God nor the fourth person of the Trinity.

3a -- Trinity is perhaps the fasted developing and key area of contemporary theology. However, for many "Catholics in the pews" these developments are still unexplored. To tell many Catholics that "there were now four persons in the Trinity instead of three" would be accepted as just another change by the Vatican Council -- in fact it might be accepted more readily because it would cause less change in their life or belief. To say that Mary is not (or is) the fourth person of the Trinity doesn't make much difference to many Catholics. They are so accustomed to paralleling God and Mary that it seems a normal part of our faith.

3b -- Care must be taken with prayers and revelations which parallel Mary and God. For example "The Request of Our Lady of Light, May 18, 1993: Dear children, Once you have been rescued from the wolf, do not return to his den...Be strong and stay faithful to the Father. I am your mother and thank you for your response."

3c -- Many of these "parallels" are so familiar to Roman Catholic Christians that they are no longer a concern. For example, we walk into a church and on the right side of the sanctuary is the "Blessed Mother Altar" and on the left side is the "Sacred Heart Altar." While the physical architecture may be parallel and symmetrical, this physical symmetry can skew the architecture of our faith.

3d -- Some of these parallels could be cause for concern, for example, the growing practice of adding the Hail Mary to the Lord's Prayer at Mass (or substituting it for the Lord's Prayer) at the beginning of the Communion Rite.

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4. The law of compensating for deficits. Devotion to Mary (or some other feminine figure) will be especially prominent in a religion or Church starved for the feminine.

4a -- In an ecclesial body where all liturgical ministry and all theological and disciplinary authority is exercised by males, were all references to the divinity presume and reinforce that God is a "he", devotion to Mary can perform a helpful balance. Mary' voice in visions and revelations gives the Church a place where we can hear the voice of a feminine authority figure.

4b -- However, healthy devotion should not be based on an aberration. Perhaps if God were seen to be both Mother and Father, if the Church has a more visibly feminine face, it would be possible to evaluate devotion to Mary more objectively.

4c -- Perhaps the present state of devotion to Mary in the Catholic Church is a better argument for women's ordination that the argument from the shortage of male ministers.

4d -- There seems to be a relation between a person's individual perception of male and female in their lives and the gender of a vision or apparition. Often women and children in a a male dominant Church will see apparitions of a feminine figure. Individuals who live in structures in which the authority is experienced as feminine often have visions of a male figure, for example the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to Margaret Mary Alacoque. It may be an indication of the degree to which St. Francis of Assisi was comfortable with his anima (as witnessed in his Canticle of the Sun) that his visions were of the crucified Savior and not of the Blessed Mother.

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5. When God is thought of in such a way as to include the feminine, Mary is freed of that task and can be a creature.

5a -- Mary's role as "first of the disciples" is especially appealing to many Christians today. The Mary who tried to follow the will of God through doubt and fear, misunderstanding and boredom is appealing to a wider range of Christians (Jews and Muslims) than the "Divine" Mary, Co-Redemtrix of the Human Race.

5b -- Mary's role as "first of the disciples" is a shared belief among all Christians. Should not our Mariology foster unity among Christians? Does a Mariology which tends to divide Christians really honor Christ or Mary? Is it not best to assume that any devotion to Mary, however authentic and well meaning in itself, but which hinders the cause of Christian unity, is by that very fact not pleasing to Mary and on those grounds alone is reason should be discontinued?

5c -- Ecumenical concern should also make us cautious in our treatment of the Solemnities of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. [Peter Hebblethwaite. Paul VI. New York: Paulist Press, 1993, pp 501. "But once they had gone their separate ways a different "culture" grew up on both sides, involving spirituality, the style of authority, the way of relating to the world, which could be as hard to reconcile as theological differences. But there remained the intractable problem of dogmas defined by the Roman Catholic Church after 1054, notably the Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption (1950)."]

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6. We honor saints because of they way in which they followed Christ, not because they are models of masculinity or femininity.

6a -- We must be attentive that devotion to Mary is not used to oppress groups in the Church, e.g. women. The Scriptural themes of the poor (anawim) and the remnant are applicable to all in the church, women and men, lay and clergy, priests, bishops, and popes. To say that Mary "did not pursue higher education" "stayed at home and took care of her child" "did not seek fulfillment in a job outside of home" "did not aspire to priesthood," is a misuse of the theme of humility as found in the scriptures.

6b -- Mary, as first of the disciples, as Virgin, as Mother, etc., is a model for both men and women. Otherwise we should have a liturgical calendar of male saints for men and female saints for women.

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7. In evaluating "Mary in the Liturgy" it is important to distinguish what is the result theological understanding, personal piety, and ecclesial politics.

7a -- The choice of the Immaculate Conception as patroness of the United States can best be understood in the light of the politics of the time.

7b -- Pius XII defining the Assumption as dogma without calling the planned Ecumenical Council says something about his understanding of the papacy.

7c -- Paul VI proclaiming Mary to be "Mother of the Church" against the advice of his friends and theological advisors tells us something of his personal piety. As does his restoration of four of his favorite Marian feasts over the advise of the coetus charged with the revision of the Calendar. See for example Peter Hebblethwaite, Paul VI. New York: Paulist Press, 1993, pp 393: De Lubac developed the patristic idea of Mary as the "type of the Church", placing her therefore clearly within the Church. He also presented the Church as "mystery" and "sacrament" rather than the juridical reality favored by the Roman school for whom the Church was a "perfect society", the "bulwark" (II Baluardo - title of Ottaviani's collected speeches) against the infiltrations of the modern world. ... The title Mater Ecclesiae is sometimes found in ecclesiastical authors, but very rarely, and it cannot be called traditional. In any case, it is completed by the addition of titles like Daughter and Sister of the Church. It is therefore clear that it is a metaphor. From the ecumenical point of view this is certainly not recommended, even though it is theologically admissible. The Commission thought it better to put it another way.

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8. The quality of the liturgical texts far surpasses most (all?) devotions.

8a -- The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, article 13, states that "Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly endorsed, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See. ... But these devotions should be so fashioned that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them. I had read this statement of the Council many times and had firmly believed it, as I attributed some sort of ontological or theoretical or theological superiority to the liturgical texts. During this course I have many occasions to compare the texts of the Lectionary and Sacramentary with the texts given us by contemporary visionaries. The comparison is striking.

8b -- An example: ... Beyond that, I have no problem with devotion to St. Michael the archangel, to which one of the "directives" refers. But I do find it unusual that Mary wanted us to know she called Jesus "Golden Boy" or that, in the face of all this world's problems, her concern is that the women of the United States wear blue berets without emblems and the men wear white berets with "Michael" on them! ... To be blunt, I don not think very many people, including bishops and the pope, are ready to believe Archangel Michael was commanded by God to deliver a demand that women cover their heads during Mass, I could more easily believe a revelation calling for people to attend Mass. (The Wiseman, St. Anthony Messenger, November 1993, pp 49.)

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9. Piety is different from theology.   I found that many Catholics have a strong devotion to Mary (i.e. a large percentage of their prayers are addressed to Mary) while at the same time they have little understanding of either the way the Church honors Mary in the liturgy, or a theological understanding of the role of Mary in the Mystery of the Church and the Mystery of Christ or a knowledge of Mary in the Scriptures.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 05/10/12 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org