Part 7 Conclusions

Chapter m77 Deeper (Under the Iceberg) Issues

Preliminary Questions


Deeper Issues

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

This course "12:635 Mary in the Liturgy" is an elective course.  The very notion of "elective" implies that the material covered is not always of the same importance as the material covered in the "core" courses.  For example, there may be priests in heaven who, during their ministry here on earth, did not know whether the feast of Our Lady of the Snows was a optional memorial or an obligatory memorial, or who did not know whether to say first vespers of the Sunday or second vespers of the Assumption when that solemnity falls on a Saturday. 

However....  while we are studying these "lesser" issues (consciously, "top of the iceberg") there will often be connections to, and implications for, deeper, really important issues (issues in our subconscious, "bottom of the iceberg) that we are not explicitly and consciously addressing during this time together. 

What are some of these "deeper issues" and how do we deal with them?

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References to "Pelikan" refer to: Jaroslav Pelikan.  Mary Through the Centuries:  Her Place in the History of Culture.  Yale University Press, 1996.   ISBN 0-300-07661-4

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Deeper Issues

Prayer:   We pray to God. God is one.  As Christians, we pray to the God to whom Jesus prayed.  The Second Council of Nicea (787) taught that the word λατρία, (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, δουλία (dulia). Mary received a special dulia that was somewhat better than the rest (hyperdulia), but it was still dulia and not latria. One could adore or worship God; but one did not adore or worship saints, or statues of saints, sacred trees, rocks or anything else.

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:  it is 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.   When we "pray" to Mary, we are asking Mary to intercede for us, that is, we are asking her to pray to God on our behalf. 

The letter to the Christians of Smyrna, the oldest witness to the celebration of the anniversary of martyrs (about 155), already specifies clearly the nature of this cult, for it adds: "We adore Christ because he is the Son of God; as for the martyrs, we love them as disciples and as imitators of the Lord." Two centuries later, Augustine will specify further: "If we honor the martyrs, we do not raise an altar to any of them." But one must read the passage in which the Catholic Church recognizes the exact formulation of her doctrine on the cult of saints.

"No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, 'Peter, we make this offering to you,' or 'Paul, to you,' or 'Cyprian, to you,' No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs. We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so."

"So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men and women of God still with us. We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle. We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already achieved the victor's crown and live in heaven."

"But the veneration strictly called "worship," or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone. The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are called idol-worshipers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If any among us falls into this error, they are corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend their ways or else be shunned. ..."

"Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them. Augustin, Contra Faustum 20, 21; CSEL 25, 562-563. Traduction Liturgie des Heures, 11 décembre.

The last phrase of Augustine already points towards some possible distortions in the cult of saints; but his statement does say clearly that the idea of cult is not attributed to God in the same way that it is to the saints. In Christian and in classical Latin, "cultus" takes on a whole range of meanings: from the cultivation of the fields to the action of honoring one's parents, one's country or the gods, according to the kind of life. In French the usage of "cult" is not prior to the end of the 16th century; in the 17th century it is looked upon as a rare word. That is why it will be necessary to analyze the forms that the cult of saints takes on in order to specify the meaning. For between liturgical and popular cult, the connotations will not always be the same. The meaning of cult is also clarified by referring to its origins and to the way it developed.   (From an address by Père Jounel (in French) at the biannual meeting of the Societas Liturgica  in Paris, August 1981.  For the complete text click here.) [Msgr. Jounel was one of the principal authors of the current Roman Calendar.]

Question:  Do you find these words (latria / worship, etc) used correctly in prayers, hymns, devotions? 


Revelation:  how does doctrine "develop"?  How does God reveal his plan for creation (Mysterion / Sacramentum)   What role does scripture play in this? 

Christ:  truly God and truly Human.   How do I preserve this balance?  How do I think of the humanity of Christ?  Is Jesus the unique mediator between the Divine and the Created?  How is Mary a "mediator"? 

Woman -- How do I view "male" and "female"?  -- What are my attitudes toward women?  How do I view sexuality?  What are my attitudes toward "feminine theology"?  "The women's movement"? 

Transcendent / Immanent.  How does God communicate with us?  Through the ordinary?  the extraordinary?  Through both?   Are apparitions real?


1.  Prayer:  We pray to God.

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.

God is the source and creator of all that is good. If in a creature we find anything good, anything holy, anything beautiful, anything tender, anything loving, anything compassionate, etc. the creature is but a "mirror" of the good, holy, beautiful, tender, loving, compassionate God who possesses these qualities infinitely more perfectly than does the creature. If Mary is mother, compassionate, loving, approachable, it is because she received these qualities from God who possess them to an infinite degree. God is infinitely more mother, more compassionate, more loving, more approachable than is Mary.

2b -- When Mary is honored (prayed to, adored, worshiped, etc.) because she has things that God doesn't have, or that she can do things that God can't do, 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 -- There were popular stories such as the following that were preached in the middle ages: "George was a terrible sinner, he killed, robbed, rapped, blasphemed God, but he always had a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And when he died, God condemned him to hell.  But Mary went there and took him by the hand and let him into heaven by the back door. Therefore, be devoted to Mary and your salvation is assured."

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.

3.  Mary is not God nor the fourth person of the Trinity.  Elizabeth A. Johnson in part two or her excellent book Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, (The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-8264-1473-7) demonstrates that approaching Mary as "The Ideal Face of Woman (Chapter 3) or approaching Mary as "The Maternal Face of God (Chapter 4) are "culs-de-sac" (dead ends) theologically.

3a -- Trinity is perhaps the fastest 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.

4.   It has been my experience in 50 years of ministry that some people find Mary "more" approachable than God. It is easy to approach this situation rationally and theologically (top of the iceberg) but there are many unconscious (under the iceberg) issues at play here. To name a few: The fact that we call God Father more often than Mother. The attribution of male gender to God in our use of language and pronouns, etc. Our personal experience of motherhood or fatherhood. Our personal experience of our biological mother and our biological father. These and many more factors are at play here.   It seems that one aspect of our history is that when the catholic mind pictured a god of the Greek philosophers which came to us through scholastic philosophy, God was so distant that we needed a mediator and Mary took on that role. Some who find the God of Jesus to be close and intimate do not need that type of mediation because they find it in Jesus/God.  

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

 5. 5a -- Mary's role a "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) that 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. ["But once they {Protestants and Romans} 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)."  Peter Hebblethwaite. Paul VI. New York: Paulist Press, 1993, pp 501.]

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 remanent 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.

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 advise 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.

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 do 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.)

9. Piety is certainly different from theology. -- I found that some Catholics who have a "strong" devotion to Mary (in the sense that a large percentage of their prayers are addressed to Mary) while at the same time they have little understanding of either a) the way the Church honors Mary in the liturgy, or b) a theological understanding of the Role of Mary in the Mystery of the Church and the Mystery of Christ or c) Mary in the Scriptures.

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To Think About

I went back to "Between Memory and Hope" and re-read the chapter by Killian McDonald.

Once again, the metaphor of the iceberg came to mind. It is easy enough to talk about the history and theology of devotions to Mary, but as is often the case many of the important deciding issues are lodged in the subconscious.

1. The question of language: For Catholics who began their life of prayer and devotion in the years before the second Vatican Council, devotion to Mary has a treasured place because, for one thing, devotions to Mary, as all devotions, were in the vernacular where as the liturgy was in Latin. Moreover the common understanding was that devotions were our prayer expressing our concerns whereas the liturgy was primarily for God. Consequently devotional prayer played a major role in most all Catholics prayer life.

2. Force of habit: And as one of the characteristics of devotional prayer is that it "doesn't change" (whereas the liturgy is continually changing day by day (Lectionary, cycle of feasts, etc,) one would expect that this attachment to devotional life would continue even after the liturgy itself was put in the vernacular and given back to the people as their prayer.

3. Developmental maturity in prayer forms: Note that the focus of prayer changes and develops as one matures spiritually. Just as an infant utters mainly "cries of petition" – feed me, change my diaper, etc. and small children continually "want things" but as we grow we learn to say thank you, we learn to return gifts, and finally in mature adulthood we are concerned about aiding our parents, and thanking them for their care to us. Similarly with God, we find that early in the spiritual life prayers are often prayers of petition, and as a person grows our prayer life morphs into a life of praise and thanksgiving–the culminating act of which is the Eucharist, Thanksgiving. Those who have studied the prayers of St. Francis of Assisi have noted that as he grew and matured in the spiritual life, he stopped asking his Heavenly Father for things because he knew that God loved him so much that God would give him what was best for him, even better than he did. And consequently his prayers become almost exclusively prayers of thanksgiving and praise.

In the light of this: devotional prayers are frequently prayers of petition. Liturgical prayer is primarily the worship of the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit. In this light, it would seem normal that beginners in the devotional life would be more attracted to devotions than to the liturgy.

4. Christology: It took a while for the Church to come to an understanding of just who Jesus is. It took several centuries to develop a vocabulary of "true God and true man" and even though we learn these words and profess them in the Creed, that does not mean that under the iceberg we hold these two realities in proper tension and balance. For many centuries the humanity of Jesus was nearly overshadowed by his divinity. In this context Jesus does not properly fulfill the role of mediator between God and men. It was at this time that the Blessed Mother began to substitute for Jesus in this role and she–who was indeed a human being--begins to take on divine attributes. Attributes which she still possesses in the subconscious understanding of many Catholics.

5. A masculine God: When God the Father is understood "under the iceberg" as a masculine being, there is need for a divine feminine. And in the subconscious of many Catholics Mary takes this role and is seen as the feminine face of God. For those Catholics for whom God is beyond gender and understand that God is both mother and father to us, Mary is no longer required to be our (divine) mother and can become our sister, the first of the disciples.

I believe that these are some of the subconscious factors that influence Catholic devotion to the blessed mother. And I believe that in most cases they are more important than theology and/or history (top of the iceberg).

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