When glancing over the myriad of Marian devotions in the Catholic Church, it’s easy to find yourself pondering: “How do I pick one? Can I pick only one? In the end, aren’t they all just prayers to Mary?” Yes, our Marian prayers do all end up in the same place, in God’s hands through Mary. But, the long list of devotions isn’t simply a way for Mary to accumulate as many awesome titles as possible. Each Marian devotion has a unique message behind it, directed to a specific audience, and is accompanied by an interesting history. So, it’s helpful to read up on the history and message before deciding to focus on a particular Marian devotion at any given time. Chances are, one of Mary’s messages will speak loud and clear to your heart, making the decision that much easier.
I find it amusing to hear Catholics discussing various devotions like middle schoolers discussing the latest rock bands, bragging, “Well, I prayed this devotion way before it was cool and popular in the U.S.” Unlike teenyboppers’ fickle taste in rock bands, once a Marian devotion spreads like wildfire, it doesn’t simply lose its appeal. On the contrary, if a particular train of devotion to Mary is gaining speed, you’d better hop on. God’s providential hand has always guided Mary into our lives at the perfect moment in the grand tapestry of time. I know she is always reintroduced into my life in new ways just when I need her the most.
The devotion to Our Lady Undoer (or Untier) of Knots has recently gained popularity in the United States since Pope Francis’ election to the papacy. This devotion was entirely obscure until about 40 years ago when Pope Francis brought the devotion from Bavaria to Argentina. Now, he has brought it to the Vatican, which has caused it to spread like wildfire. I hadn’t ever heard of this devotion until quite tragically, a friend’s son committed suicide, and she requested we pray this novena for the repose of his soul. Upon praying these prayers, I was in awe of it’s beauty. It wasn’t just the novelty of a new Marian devotion that excited me, but the depth of the theology contained within the prayers captured my heart.
If you’re a practicing Catholic, you know that when you go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, your sins are washed away and your soul is given new life. However, upon exiting the confessional, you come face to face with the fallen world. While your soul may be cleansed of sin, the consequences of sin, both personal and general, tend to linger and stir up trouble. Penance helps us make retribution for our sins, like setting the truth straight after lying to someone or returning a stolen item. Although, more often than not, our sins have far-reaching consequences that aren’t so easily set straight. For instance, premarital sex could lead to children, and with unmarried parents, there’s a good chance they will not have the benefit of an intact family. Separated parents may then feel powerless to protect their children from suffering for their own past mistakes, despite having God forgive their sin. But, you can’t un-ring that bell, as my mother would say. The primordial example of this is, of course, the first sin ever committed by our first parents Adam and Eve. Although God forgave them and promised a Savior, there still echoes today ramifications for their sin, the most obvious being mortality. While we have been redeemed, we continue to live in a fallen world. Redemption is an ongoing process, one in which God has ordained that Mary play a significant role.
As Jesus hung in agony on the cross, he chose as one of his last acts to give us His mother to care for us. She is here for us, to guide us and protect us, to pick us up and urge us on. There is not one person who hasn’t been affected by sin. We’ve all stumbled into its traps, especially those nagging recurring ones. The image of of our lives as ribbons that have simply been twisted into knots is comforting when we realize we have a Mother to help us untie them. Who doesn’t have kinks in their lives they feel powerless to work out all on their own?
This is why I love Our Lady Undoer of Knots. It is a perfect image of Mary as Mother. She stands almost effortlessly crushing the head of Satan while lovingly attending to each little knot in the ribbon of our lives. Good has triumphed over evil, now we’ve just got some knots to work out. Who better to help us than our mother? We can all conjure up images of our mothers untying knots for us, whether a necklace or a shoelace (or even a rosary). When we were little, we knew if we were stuck, we could cry to mommy for help. This is what Mary is doing in this devotion. She is holding out her tender hands to help us with our struggles. Like children though, we can be too stubborn or proud to seek out help, refusing to let go of our ribbons. But why go it alone?
We need to take responsibility for the traps we find ourselves in, but we must also realize that Jesus has given us a way out, purely due to His unfathomable mercy and love. We must turn to Mary and entrust her with the ribbons of our lives as she helps us untie them for the glory of God. So, don’t hesitate to learn more about this devotion, especially the novena. You can read more about the history of this devotion and its connection to Pope Francis here. Also, this website has my favorite novena prayers to Our Lady Undoer of Knots because it stresses her role as our mother. Did I mention the novena involves praying the Rosary? That’s another reason why this novena rocks! It’s actually what prompted me to incorporate this powerful spiritual weapon into my daily routine. Mary told us at Fatima to pray the Rosary every day, so it’s not just some outdated prayer. Satan would love to have us believe that. He’d rather we not strap on the armor that is Mary’s mantle, and yield the sword that is the Rosary. I don’t think it accidental that this image of Mary’s fingers passing from knot to knot in our lives is similar to how our fingers pass from bead to bead in meditating on the life of Christ in the mysteries of the Rosary. Mary’s hands are waiting to give your strained fingers a rest.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the Dead Philosophers Society and is reprinted here with kind permission.