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Marian Prayer and Devotion
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Madonna with St. Francis - Correggio - 1514
By Deacon Keith Fournier
The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs the faithful on just how Mary prayed. Mary still prays. She has a special role in the plan of salvation and is a model for all Christians: "Mary's prayer is revealed to us at the dawning of the fullness of time. Before the incarnation of the Son of God, and before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, her prayer cooperates in a unique way with the Father's plan of loving kindness: At the Annunciation, for Christ's conception; at Pentecost, for the formation of the Church, his Body.
"In the faith of his humble handmaid, the Gift of God found the acceptance he had awaited from the beginning of time. She whom the Almighty made "full of grace" responds by offering her whole being: "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word." "Fiat": this is Christian prayer: to be wholly God's, because he is wholly ours.
"The Gospel reveals to us how Mary prays and intercedes in faith. At Cana, the mother of Jesus asks her son for the needs of a wedding feast; this is the sign of another feast - that of the wedding of the Lamb where he gives his body and blood at the request of the Church, his Bride. It is at the hour of the New Covenant, at the foot of the cross, that Mary is heard as the Woman, the new Eve, the true "Mother of all the living."
"That is why the Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat (Latin) or Megalynei (Byzantine) is the song both of the Mother of God and of the Church; the song of the Daughter of Zion and of the new People of God; the song of thanksgiving for the fullness of graces poured out in the economy of salvation and the song of the "poor" whose hope is met by the fulfillment of the promises made to our ancestors, "to Abraham and to his posterity forever" (CCC #2617-2619).
The Catechism also addresses the ancient practice, present from the beginning of the Church, of seeking Mary's intercession. This is rooted in the Christian belief in the communion of saints. From antiquity, the Church has proclaimed, as St. Paul affirmed in his words to the Romans, that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death (Romans 8:38ff). As the author of the letter to the Hebrews affirmed, we are surrounded by a great "cloud of witnesses"
One of the great Catholic apologists of our age, Scott Hahn, once explained devotion to Mary with these words: "So we say, 'Well then, why give glory and honor and devotion to Mary?' Because we do whatever Jesus tells us. And we do whatever Jesus does because the fundamental axiom of Christian morality is the imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ, and he is the best of the best when it comes to being a son. Not only a Son of his heavenly Father -but a Son of his earthly mother.
Annunciation-with Cardinal - Antoniazzo Romano - 1485
"When he accepts the mission of his Father to become a man and to obey the law, he obeys it more perfectly than anybody could have ever imagined it being obeyed. And when he gets to that commandment, "Honor your father and your mother," that Hebrew word, Kabodah, means bestow glory, comes from kabod weight, glory. So he honors his Father and obeys his command by bestowing unprecedented glory upon the one that he has chosen from all eternity to be his mother. The only time that the Creator created a human creature, created the one destined to be his mother. And he filled her with his own life and grace because he began honoring as soon as she was created his mother."
"So what do we do? We honor Christ and we glorify him and we imitate him. If we really imitate him, we do what he does and we honor and bestow glory upon his mother. Not instead of him. It isn't undermining devotion to Christ. It's to express our devotion of Christ, our worship of Christ by imitating him. And if we do it we're going to be able to see in her face, the face of our mother, because Jesus has taken on her flesh and blood and given us his own Divine nature. Peter says, "We are partakers of Divine nature through Christ" (2 Peter 1:2-11) so that his mother can become our mother, spiritually, supernaturally, but actually and really. And so in devotion to him, we can be devoted to her without any compromise, without any tug of war, without any diminution or decrease of our honor to Christ."
In its treatment of the ancient creed's profession of our belief in the "communion of saints" the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: "After confessing "the holy Catholic Church," the Apostles' Creed adds "the communion of saints." In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding: "What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?"The communion of saints is the Church.
"Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others. . . . We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head. . . . Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments." "As this Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the goods she has received necessarily become a common fund." The term "communion of saints" therefore has two closely linked meanings: communion in holy things (sancta)" and "among holy persons (sancti)" (CCC # 946-948a).
Mary, the Mother of the Lord, is also our Mother as members of His family, His Body, the Church. She is a powerful intercessor in that family. Just as her intercession at the Wedding of Cana moved the heart of her Son, so her intercession on our behalf continues to move His Sacred Heart. Our Marian devotion and prayer is a treasure which leads us, as does all genuine Marian devotion, closer to her Son and into the communion of love in which she now participates in glory. We participate in that communion even now and her prayers assist us in our journey to its fullness.
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