After the Council closed, no small number of Catholics began treating Marian devotion as an outdated form of piety, one that is somehow out of step with the “spirit of Vatican II.” So pervasive had this mindset once become that a priest once shared with me that as a seminarian in the early 90’s he succumbed to praying the Rosary in secret just to avoid being ostracized by both his peers and his professors alike!
Since that time as more and more Catholics are slowly discovering what the Council Fathers actually taught, Marian devotion is making a welcome resurgence, and in no place do we need it more than in our approach to the sacred liturgy.
Speaking directly to the laity as to how they may best participate in the mission of the Church, the Council Fathers said, “All should devoutly venerate Mary and commend their life and apostolate to her maternal care” (AA 4).
Even so, far too many Catholics — including some members of the clergy — remain so uncomfortable with Marian devotion that they not only shy away from it personally, they sometimes even go so far as to discourage it in others. “Uncomfortable” to me is wearing a turtleneck, but devotion to the Mother of Jesus? This is a garment that all of us are called to wear proudly as a people clothed in Christ by Baptism. The two simply go together.
According to the Council Fathers, Marian devotion is not just one optional expression of piety among many; it’s truly a solemn obligation that every single one of us share:
“The faithful must in the first place reverence the memory of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ” (LG 52). [Emphasis added]
For some, tentativeness concerning Marian devotion is due to a sincere fear that it might in some way detract from the worship that is due to Jesus alone. For others it is due to a lack of awareness as to who Mary truly is and her unique role in God’s plan of salvation. The remedy in both cases is the same — to discover all that we can about the Blessed Virgin Mother – and a good starting point is the place where Jesus began His earthly ministry, the Wedding Feast at Cana as described in John 2: 1-11.
On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
A close examination of this passage reveals a great deal about our Blessed Lady and the gift that awaits those who turn to her. For starters, it is reasonable for us to believe that Jesus was fully aware of the needs of the wedding party even before He was approached by Mary. Yet in spite of this, He chose to meet this need only at His Mother’s suggestion. What does this tell us?
Consider this; even you and I who are sinners are moved to act at the behest of our mothers who are also sinners. How much more should we expect Jesus to be moved by love to meet the requests placed before Him by His Immaculate Mother?
Jesus addressed His mother as “woman” at Cana, language that has been both misunderstood and at times even exploited as evidence that Jesus rebuked her. Not only do His actions tell quite another story, however, the very origin of the title reveals something much more profound; namely, Mary’s spiritual motherhood of all believers.
In addressing His mother as “woman,” Jesus is calling our attention back to Eden and to what is sometimes called the protoevangelium (the first gospel) as recorded in Genesis 3:15 in which God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her seed and your seed.”
And who is this woman? She is, of course, none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, and Jesus is confirming this for us at Cana.
“OK, fine,” you might ask, “but what has this to do with Mary’s spiritual motherhood?”
Enmity is simply another way of expressing “active and complete opposition.” When Catholics are baptized, as well as when we renew our baptismal vows, the first questions we are asked are: “Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?”
Clearly, there are none who call Jesus, Lord – including our Protestant friends and neighbors – who would answer with anything other than a resounding YES! Those who struggle with the idea of Mary’s spiritual motherhood should take a moment to ponder the fact that in proclaiming our enmity to Satan, we are also necessarily affirming that we are “seeds of the woman.” We are, in other words, proclaiming ourselves to be the children of Mary.
Of all of the guests present in Cana that day, Mary had a singularly profound knowledge that Jesus is the Son of the Most High God, and in presenting the needs of the people to Him that day, she revealed her Son’s glorious nature as He who deserves our adoration.
Now, some may be tempted to respond, “Yes, that was useful to those at Cana, but I already know that Jesus deserves my adoration.” As true as that may be, one should notice that present with Jesus that day were those men who had already made the decision to leave everything behind to follow Him. Even so, the story of Cana ends with John telling us, “Jesus manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” In other words, thanks to Mary’s intercession, even the Apostles’ saw their faith increased.
You see, just as the disciples’ time with Jesus on earth was a journey, so too is our life of faith. No matter where we are in our journey today, there is a road to travel tomorrow. If we but humbly turn to Mary in our own moments of dryness, she will lead us just as she led those at Cana, directly to her Son.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we are invited to encounter Christ, the Source of Living Water, in the most profound way possible in the Most Holy Eucharist. It only makes sense then that we should draw near to Mary each and every time we participate in the sacred liturgy.
Did you happen to notice who, among all of the people at the wedding feast at Cana, were the first to realize that Jesus is more than just an ordinary man? It was the servants, the lowest of all who were present and likely the only ones there who were not among the invited guests. This brings to mind a number of Jesus’ teachings: “The last shall be first. He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant. Let the little ones come to me.” This realization should underscore for us the necessity of humility in all that we do, and this includes of course our approach to Holy Mass – the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
Think about it; in Holy Mass the faithful are invited to encounter the Lord at the Wedding Feast where He renews the covenant with His Bride in the Eucharist. If this doesn’t inspire awe and engender humility, what will? Yet, fallible human beings that we are, many of us have lost sight of what we are doing and into what we are invited at Holy Mass, sometimes even to the point of asserting what we think are our rights in the sacred liturgy!
The only “rights” that any of us have in Holy Mass properly speaking, clergy included, is the right to a liturgy celebrated according to the norms established by the Holy See by the authority of Christ. As for a right to serve or to participate in this “ministry” or that, a right to certain kinds of music, a right to the sort of language that we personally find most palatable, etc…, no such rights exist.
Let’s be honest though, the “liturgical rights” mindset has held tremendous sway over the way Holy Mass is celebrated in many places over the last forty plus years. The pushback that we are now seeing with regard to the new English translation of the Roman Missal is a lamentable example.
Spiritual dryness is the problem, and just as at Cana, turning to Mary is the remedy.
Allowing the Blessed Virgin Mary – Mother of both Bridegroom and Bride alike – to lead the way at Holy Mass can help all of us find our bearings once again and to come away from our participation in the sacred liturgy as did those at the Wedding Feast at Cana, with an increased faith in Him.
In future columns I will expound upon the ways in which we might ask Mary to lead the way in Holy Mass, until then, the lesson of Cana is clear; the Blessed Mother intercedes in love for all of her children, but it is the lowly, the servant and those who are willing to exercise the humility that it takes to acknowledge our absolute need for a Mother who are first in line to witness the glory of her Son.