QUESTION: Recently one of the intercessions at Mass was for “a growth in authentic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” I would like to know what “authentic” devotion is?
ANSWER: A response to this question should note that devotion to Mary is not limited to Catholics. For example, the place of Mary in the life of the Orthodox Church is of great importance. This aspect of their faith originates from the very beginnings of Christianity. And it is there that we can begin to discuss what might be considered “authentic” devotion to the Virgin Mary.
An appreciation of Mary’s role in salvation is as old as the oral accounts that underlie the Gospels. Mary’s willing acceptance of her role as mother of the Redeemer was a source of admiration whenever St. Luke’s account was heard. The symbolism of Mary beneath the cross of Christ has also touched the hearts of all who read St. John’s Gospel. The New Testament’s appreciation of Mary is always seen in relation to her role as the mother of Jesus.
The early Christians endured long and sometimes bitter struggles over points of dogma. The divinity of Christ emerged as a tenet of faith from those discussions. Once agreement had been reached on this point, Mary was given her most ancient and important title of “God-bearer.” I believe this is the first point to be emphasized in establishing how the Catholic Church understands the role of Mary. Her identity must always be related to that of Christ. That is the first element of an authentic devotion to Mary.
It is no accident that the artistic representations of Mary found in the East almost universally depict Mary with the child Jesus. It is also one reason why the feast of Mary, the Mother of God (Jan. 1) has remained in the liturgical calendar of the church (and as a holy day of obligation). Mary’s identity as Mother of God is not only a guiding principle of art, but of theology and practice as well.
When the Second Vatican Council began its deliberations, most believed something should be said about Mary. Where this would appear, however, became a significant question. While many felt that a separate document should be devoted to Mary, the council’s most significant statements on Mary are contained in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (“Lumen Gentium”). In this way, the church placed its teaching on Mary precisely within its teaching on Christ’s church.
This is the second element of an authentic understanding of the role of Mary — namely that Mary must always be understood within the context of the church, the body of Christ.
A third element that might be considered here is the deep, rich liturgical traction of the church. The devotion and praise we render to the Virgin Mary is most authentic when it takes its inspiration from this liturgical tradition and amplifies it using the liturgical texts.
Based upon these three principles, authentic devotion to Mary emerges. Our Catholic understanding of the role of Mary in the life of the church and in our lives should always be a source of pride and spiritual nourishment.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.