Marian Devotion and the Spiritual Life

 "Pentecost" (Detail of Mary) by Jean Restout

“Pentecost” (Detail of Mary) by Jean Restout

The one aspect of spiritual development that has, until recently, been more mysterious to me, is Marian devotion. During my conversion to Catholicism, the doctrines concerning Mary were among the most difficult to embrace. The turning point was when someone pointed out several things to me. First, they challenged me to reflect on the scripture in Romans 13 where St. Paul instructs us to “give honor to whom honor is due.” Then they posed a simple question, “If we are called to give honor to whom honor is due, the Archangel under God’s command gives honor to Mary, then we are honoring God if we reflect that same disposition.” A corresponding conclusion I came to was that if we are honoring God by honoring Mary, then we are not in any way robbing God of devotion due Him; we are in fact giving Him our worship by doing so. Shortly after my conversion I decided, though it was difficult at first, to begin giving honor to whom honor was due. Since that time my devotion to Mary has remained steady and I believe that Mary’s intercession has been critical in my own growth.

Beyond my own experience, spiritual masters have consistently pointed to the invaluable assistance of the Mother of God in helping us to know and love Christ – I have found this to be a profound reality best captured by this beautiful hymn:

“Mary the Dawn” by Father Justin Mulcahy C.F.

Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!
Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the Wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose Blood-red!
Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.

Father Garrigou Lagrange, in his book the Three Ages of the Interior Life, sums her role up effectively, “When the bases of the interior life are considered, we cannot discuss the action of Christ, the universal Mediator, on His mystical body without also speaking of the influence of Mary… many persons delude themselves maintaining that they reach union with God without having continuous recourse to our Lord who is the way, the truth, and the life. Another error would consist in wishing to go to our Lord without going first to Mary… Protestants have fallen into this last error. Without going as far as this deviation, there are Catholics who do not see clearly enough the necessity of having recourse to Mary that they may attain to intimacy with the Savior. Blessed Grignion de Montfort speaks even of ‘doctors who know the Mother of God only in a speculative, dry, sterile, and indifferent manner; who fear that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is abused, and that injury is done to our Lord by honoring too greatly His Holy Mother…’ They seem to believe that Mary is a hindrance to reaching divine union. According to Blessed Grignion, we lack humility of we neglect the mediators whom God has given us because of our frailty. Intimacy with our Lord in prayer will be greatly facilitated by true and profound devotion to Mary.”

Father Lagrange completed this great work on the spiritual life just one year before “Blessed Grignion” (whom most people know as St. Louis de Montfort) was canonized. St. Louis de Montfort is a master of wisdom regarding devotion to Mary and is, as of the writing of this book, a candidate to become a Doctor of the Church. St. Louis, in True Devotion to Mary reveals much more about development of the interior life and devotion to Mary. Here are two key passages from this great work that are well worth reflection:

“Take notice, if you please, that I say the saints are molded in Mary.  There is a great difference between making a figure in relief by blows of hammer and chisel, and making a figure by throwing it into a mold.  Statuaries and sculptors labor much to make figures in the first manner; but to make them in the second manner, they work little and do their work quickly.  St. Augustine calls our Blessed Lady “the mold of God” – the mold fit to cast and mold gods.  He who is cast in this mold is presently formed and molded in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ in him.”

“The third good which Our Lady does for her servants is that she conducts and directs them according to the will of her Divine Son.  Rebecca guided her little Jacob, and gave him good advice from time to time; either to draw upon him the blessing of his father, or to avert from him the hatred and persecutions of his brother Esau.  Mary, who is the Star of the Sea, leads all her faithful servants into a safe harbor.  She shows them the paths of eternal life.  She makes them avoid the dangerous places.  She conducts them by her hand along the paths of justice.  She steadies them when they are about to fall; she lifts them up when they have fallen.  She reproves them like a charitable mother when they fail; and sometimes she even lovingly chastises them.  Can a child obedient to Mary, his foster-Mother and his enlightened guide, go astray in the paths of eternity?  ‘If you follow her,’ says St. Bernard, ‘you cannot wander from the road.’”

Wrapping up with the wise reflections of Fr. Lagrange, and St. Louis, St. Teresa of Avila has also encouraged recourse to Mary and the saints; particularly in the battle of spiritual development, “They must take his Blessed Mother and his saints as intercessors that these intercessors may fight for them… Truly in all states it’s necessary that strength come to us from God.”

Dan Burke is the Executive Director of the National Catholic Register and author of Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God.

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  1. When we are present at the Consecration at mass, we are made present to Christ’s crucifiction and death 2000 years ago, therefore we are also made present to Mary standing beside us, as Jesus says, “Woman, behold your son”, and to his deciple (us), “behold your Mother” and we should accept Jesus giving us His Mother directly and Her prayers for us.
    Also, when we pray the name “Jesus” we invoke Him into us (CCC 2666,2668,2741) and He prays in us and for us and with us when we join our prayer to His infinite prayer for everyone at every point of their lives. Since all petitions are contained in the prayer of Jesus, every prayer of Joseph and Mary are contained in it as well and in a special way all their prayers with the Chils Jesus praying with them and honoring them perfectly as a perfect Son can and eternally does because all space and time are present to Him always (CCC 600). Therefore if we conform ourselves to the eternal, changeless will of God, we will honor Joseph and Mary as The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity eternally does in the present tense.

  2. Recall, too, Blessed John Paul II’s teaching when he gave us the Luminous Mysteries that to pray the Rosary is to learn the person of Jesus at the school of His Mother, Mary.

  3. Since abandoning Protestantism and coming into full communion with the Church in 2004, I have faced similar struggles in dealing with Mary’s role in the spiritual life. This year I have prayed especially for guidance in the matter.

    So, my thanks for this helpful article. Looks like the Blessed Virgin Mary is at work in both our lives.

  4. Lacking humility but convinced of the truth in Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s lessons, I dare recommend my own book, “THE VIRGIN MARY’S REVOLUTION, Or LOVE AND DO WHAT YOU WILL.” The subtitle is straight from Saint Augustine while the book is guided by the former Pope’s encyclical, “God is Love.” “Mary’s submission to our Creator at the Annunciation revealed the revolutionary new law of Love that substituted the old” (page 76). A.M.D.G., Gonzalo T. Palacios, Ph.D., C.U.A., 1970.

  5. When asked, usually by non-Catholics about WHY devotion to Mary, I refer to specific Scriptures:
    1) In Luke’s Gospel, the prophecies of Simeon when the infant Jesus is presented in the Temple: Luke 2:34-35; “and thine own soul a sword shall pierce so the the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”:
    2) John 19:25. How do you think Mary felt when her Son was dying on the cross?
    3) John 2:1-11. Lesson for us: Jesus sometimes does favors when requested by His mother.
    My BW & I try to pray the Rosary together each day. Most of the time we succeed.
    “‘Tis the month of our Mother, the blessed and beautiful days,
    When our lips and our spirits are glowing with love and with praise.
    All hail to dear Mary, the guardian of our way.
    To the fairest of queens be the fairest of seasons sweet May!”
    (Song learned in grade 6 in parochial school, in 1944)

  6. I’m a Catholic since birth. My wife and I participate and help our parish in whatever way we can.. Fifteen years ago I was an Eucharistic Minister helping our overburden priests. A this time I was suffering from a disfiguring allergic reactions, sometimes so bad I had to be hospitalized. On many occasions it kept me from working or from participating in other activities. I went through various treatments with different doctors to no avail. Drugs were prescribed, although the drugs impeded the allergic outburst it also prevented me to perform my duties and obligations well. It made me lethargic and I hated the sensation. I tried to avoid the medications as much as I could. This went on for several years.
    In spite of my suffering I never lost faith. However, my devotion to Mary was lukewarm at the time; probably because of the influence of my protestant friends during my teens. My prayers for Mary’s intercession was basically nil other than the Rosary prayed collectively. It was a day in October of 1998, as I was driving to work, I felt my body was “warming up” to another disfiguring episode which would send me home by mid afternoon. Just before entering the parking lot I stopped the car and just sat in the car looking at the sky. There I prayed, a short prayer, and submitted my will fully and supplicated to our Blessed Mother asking for her intercession to her Son to take away my suffering. The reaction that I was expecting to send me home that day was barely felt. Ever since that day, fifteen years, I have not had another disfiguring episode.
    This experience made me humble toward Marian devotions and fully understand the importance of JPII motto “Totus Tuus”.
    God Bless.

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