TO HONOUR MARY IS TO GO TO JESUS
Pope John Paul II
Down the centuries, devotion to Mary has inspired a rich treasury of hymns, poetry and art, all celebrating God’s great gift of Redemption
"It can be clearly seen ... how the Marian dimension pervades the Church's whole life. The proclamation of the Word, the liturgy, the various charitable and cultural expressions find in Mary an occasion for enrichment and renewal", the Holy Father said at the General Audience on Wednesday, 15 November, as he continued his reflections on the Virgin Mary. The Pope's catechesis on Mary in the spiritual experience of the Church was the fifth in the series on the Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.
1. After following in our previous catecheses how the Christian community's reflection on the figure and role of the Blessed Virgin in salvation history took shape from the earliest times, let us pause today to meditate on the Marian experience of the Church.
The development of Mariological thought and devotion to the Blessed Virgin down the centuries has contributed to revealing ever better the Church's Marian aspect. Of course, the Blessed Virgin is totally related to Christ, the foundation of faith and ecclesial experience, and she leads to him. That is why, in obedience to Jesus, who reserved a very special role for his Mother in the economy of salvation, Christians have venerated, loved and prayed to Mary in a most particular and fervent way. They have attributed to her an important place in faith and piety, recognizing her as the privileged way to Christ, the supreme Mediator.
The Church's Marian dimension is thus an undeniable element in the experience of the Christian people. It is expressed in many ways in the life of believers, testifying to the place Mary holds in their hearts. It is not a superficial sentiment but a deep and conscious emotional bond, rooted in the faith which spurs Christians of the past and present to turn habitually to Mary, to enter into a more intimate communion with Christ.
2. After the most ancient prayer, formulated in Egypt by the Christian communities of the third century, to implore "the Mother of God" for protection in danger, numerous invocations were addressed to her, whom the baptized consider most powerful in her intercession with the Lord.
Christian people have expressed deep devotion to Mary
Today, the most common prayer is the Hail Mary,whose first part consists of words from the Gospel (cf. Lk 1:28, 42). Christians learn to recite it at home from their earliest years and receive it as a precious gift to be preserved throughout life. This same prayer, repeated tens of times in the Rosary, helps many of the faithful to enter into prayerful contemplation of the Gospel mysteries and sometimes to remain for long intervals in intimate contact with the Mother of Jesus. Since the Middle Ages, the Hail Mary has been the most common prayer of all believers who ask the Holy Mother of the Lord to guide and protect them on their daily journey through life (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus,nn. 42-55).
Christian people have also expressed their love for Mary by multiplying expressions of their devotion: hymns, prayers and poetic compositions, simple or sometimes of great quality, imbued with that same love for her who was given to men as Mother by the Crucified One. Some of these, such as the "Akathist Hymn" and the "Salve Regina", have deeply marked the faith life of believers.
The counterpart of Marian piety is the immensely rich artistic production in the East and West, which has enabled entire generations to appreciate Mary's spiritual beauty. Painters, sculptors, musicians and poets have left us masterpieces which, in shedding light on the various aspects of the Blessed Virgin's greatness, help to give us a better understanding of the meaning and value of her lofty contribution to the work of Redemption.
In Mary, Christian art recognizes the fulfilment of a new humanity which corresponds to God's plan and is therefore a sublime sign of hope for the whole human race.
3. This message could not fail to be grasped by Christians called to a vocation of special consecration. In fact, Mary is particularly venerated in religious orders and congregations, in institutes or associations of consecrated life. Many institutes, primarily but not only female, include Mary's name in their title. Nevertheless, over and above its external expressions, the spirituality of religious families, as well as of many ecclesial movements, some of which are specifically Marian, highlight their special bond with Mary as the guarantee of a charism fully and authentically lived.
This Marian reference in the lives of people particularly favoured by the Holy Spirit has also developed the mystical dimension, which shows how the Christian can experience Mary's intervention in the innermost depths of his being.
This reference to Mary binds not only committed Christians but also simple believers and even the "distant", for whom it is frequently their only link with the life of the Church. Pilgrimages to Marian shrines, which attract large crowds of the faithful throughout the year, are a sign of the Christian people's common sentiment for the Mother of the Lord. Some of these bulwarks of Marian piety are famous, such as Lourdes, Fatima, Loreto, Pompei, Guadalupe and Częstochowa! Others are known only at the national or local level. In all of them, the memory of events associated with recourse to Mary conveys the message of her motherly tenderness, opening our hearts to God's grace.
These places of Marian prayer are a wonderful testimony to God's mercy, which reaches man through Mary's intercession. The miracles of physical healing, spiritual redemption and conversion are the obvious sign that, with Christ and in the Spirit, Mary is continuing her work as helper and mother.
Marian dimension pervades Church's whole life
4. Marian shrines often become centres of evangelization. Indeed, even in the Church today, as in the community awaiting Pentecost, prayer with Mary spurs many Christians to the apostolate and to the service of their brothers and sisters. Here I would especially like to recall the great influence of Marian piety on the practice of charity and the works of mercy. Encouraged by Mary's presence, believers have often felt the need to dedicate themselves to the poor, the unfortunate and the sick, in order to be for the lowliest of the earth a sign of the motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin, the living icon of the Father's mercy.
It can be clearly seen from all this how the Marian dimension pervades the Church's whole life. The proclamation of the Word, the liturgy, the various charitable and cultural expressions find in Mary an occasion for enrichment and renewal.
The People of God, under the guidance of their Pastors, are called to discern in this fact the action of the Holy Spirit who has spurred the Christian faith onward in its discovery of Mary's face. It is he who works marvels in the centres of Marian piety. It is he who, by encouraging knowledge of and love for Mary, leads the faithful to learn from the Virgin of the Magnificat how to read the signs of God in history and to acquire a wisdom that makes every man and every woman the architects of a new humanity.
Weekly Edition in English
22 November 1995, page 11
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