How appropriate it is that we honor Mary, the mother of the Lord, during the same month we celebrate Mother’s Day. What a unique mother Mary of Nazareth was! In the history of the world, countless women have given birth to exceptional men and women but no other woman has given birth to God in human form! Hers is a unique story. What stories she could tell us!
Mary is, then, the mother of Jesus and all who would later become part of his family. She is the “gate of heaven” because heaven itself entered the world through her. She also becomes mother of all the redeemed – you and me – members of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ. Her birth pangs then brought all of us to life. After the Lord, everything good that we possess has come through her. As she stood beneath the cross, her sufferings over the death of her Son were endured for us too. She is the self-sacrificing mother behind the victory of Christ and the victory we hope to attain.
Mary is considered Jesus’ first disciple. She never denied or abandoned him. His mission became her mission. She lives now to help Him achieve that mission, the salvation of the world.
I’ve always been perplexed at Protestant confusion over the honor Catholics pay to Mary. Clearly, her role is critical in the life of Christ. Biblically speaking, relegating her to the background misses the “back-story”. We Catholics know that Mary is not divine. She and St. Joseph were human beings, chosen by God for a particular vocation – in Mary’s case, to bear, nourish and love the Savior – in St. Joseph’s case, to provide for Mary and for him and to be the fatherly role-model for Christ. We happily honor these two great pillars of our faith but we do not worship them. We honor them because of their unique roles, but also because they had human relationship with the Lord like no other while they lived on earth with Him. They are two of the several human loves that Jesus experienced intimately on this earth. These foundational ties, while not compromising Jesus’ love for all the world and for each one of us, continue in heaven and are a powerful connection to Him at the present time. We tap into that relationship when we turn to Mary and St. Joseph in prayer.
May is the month when we usually crown a statue of Mary in the church. This year, I was hoping to crown the new statue of Mary, installed last November, outside the church. However, due to the pandemic, this too is on hold. But, hopefully, we’ll do that when we can gather again.
When we crown a statue of Mary here on earth, we do what God has already done in heaven. (Rev.12.1) We should never fear honoring our earthly and heavenly mother – we are simply fulfilling the Fourth Commandment to honor our father and mother. We also honor her because Jesus honored her by perfect obedience to his parents and granting her requests (the Wedding Feast of Cana).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us about Mary, beginning with a quote from the New Testament: “All generations will call me blessed.” It goes on to say: “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is intrinsic to Christian worship.” The Church “rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title ‘Mother of God’, to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs.” The Catechism then goes on to make an important distinction: “This is a very special devotion…(it) differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.” The liturgical feasts dedicated to Mary throughout the year in the liturgical calendar, Marian prayer, the rosary express this devotion to the Virgin Mary.
The Rosary has a wonderful place in Catholic devotion. It recalls events in the life of Christ and in the life of his Mother. Someone recently told me: “Whenever I hold my Rosary, I take Mary’s hand and she takes mine.” What an insightful thought! The Rosary is everyone’s prayer when we need a hand. And it is so simple even a little child can pray it. It is a powerful prayer and, if prayed every day, great graces come to us through it. When we pray the Rosary, Mary joins her own prayers, near to her Son, and joins them to ours.
In days before the Vatican Council, when devotional life at home was emphasized more, children were encouraged to make a “May Altar” in their homes during the month of May. A little table was set aside. A statue of the Virgin was placed on it. The budding flowers of May were picked and strewn around the statue on that table. Children were encouraged to invite their families to say the Rosary together each evening after dinner around that home altar. It was a beautiful custom and placed “heaven’s Queen” where she is most comfortable – in a home. During this pandemic, why not encourage the children to do the same? And if you live alone, why not continue that long-forgotten tradition?
St Bonaventure writes: “Dearest Mother, we bow to you and salute you each day, O Mother of love. In you we place our hopes and our loved ones. Defend now and for all eternity. Amen” Let this be our daily prayer whether we have a home altar or not. Let this be our “May Prayer” throughout this month of May.