Marian Prayer and Piety
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By Deacon Keith Fournier
In reflecting on the joyful song of praise of Our Lady and her affirmation that "all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48), the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains.
"The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin 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 of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . ."
"This very special devotion . . . 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 the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an "epitome of the whole Gospel," express this devotion to the Virgin Mary" (CCC #971).
When we speak of piety in this context we are referring to the religious sense of the faithful and the popular expressions which have developed to express that sense and to keep the essentials of the faith alive.
Later, in a section discussing popular forms of piety, the Catechism explains, "Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful.
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"The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc" (CCC #1674).
Marian prayer and piety developed very early in the history of the undivided Christian Church of the first millennium and has been kept alive in a myriad of practices in the both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. Perhaps the most popular expression of Marian piety in the Latin Church is the praying of the rosary.
"Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same.
"Mary is the perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus' mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope" (CCC #2678, 2679).
In addition, throughout the world there are special places of pilgrimage associated with Marian prayer and piety. Places where the Mother of the Lord has appeared to the faithful, proclaiming the Gospel message to repent from sin and turn to her Son and Savior, Jesus Christ. Associated with each of these places, popular piety has kept alive the vibrant religious sense of the faithful who call upon the Mother of God for her prayerful assistance and maternal protection.
The Catechism explains, "the church, the house of God, is the proper place for the liturgical prayer of the parish community. It is also the privileged place for adoration of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The choice of a favorable place is not a matter of indifference for true prayer".
"- For personal prayer, this can be a "prayer corner" with the Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father. In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters prayer in common."
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"- In regions where monasteries exist, the vocation of these communities is to further the participation of the faithful in the Liturgy of the Hours and to provide necessary solitude for more intense personal prayer.
"- Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer. For pilgrims seeking living water, shrines are special places for living the forms of Christian prayer "in Church" (CCC #2691).
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