Mary Who She Is and Why She Matters

Who is Mary and why does she matter?

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Part 10: Mary, Most Devout

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jan 23, 2017)
The following is part 10 of a special series on the role Mary plays in the life of the Church.

Mary's fifth gospel virtue was devotion. The English word "devotion," of course, has several possible meanings, but to begin with, we shall use it to mean the virtue of taking full advantage of all the channels of grace that our Lord has given to us, especially prayer and the sacraments.

Clearly, the Blessed Virgin's whole life journey was sustained and surrounded by prayer.

First, Mary's life of prayer involved deep listening to the Word of God. Pope St. John Paul II spoke about this at length in his Wednesday General Audience address in Rome on Sept. 10, 1997:

Mary represents the model of the Church at prayer. In all probability, Mary was absorbed in prayer when the angel Gabriel came to her house in Nazareth and greeted her. This prayerful setting certainly supported the Blessed Virgin in her generous assent to the mystery of the Incarnation. ...

She who at the annunciation showed total availability for the divine plan represents for all believers a sublime model of attentiveness and docility to the Word of God. In replying to the angel, "Let it be to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38), and in stating her readiness to fulfill perfectly the Lord's will, Mary rightly shares in the beatitude proclaimed by Jesus: "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it" (Lk 11:28).

With this attitude, which encompasses her entire life, the Blessed Virgin indicates the high road of listening to the Word of God, an essential element of worship, which has become typical of the Christian liturgy.


In short, the Pope points to Mary as an example for us of listening to the Word of the Lord. God spoke his Word to Mary through the voice of an angel. That same Word speaks to us today, both in our own private reading of Holy Scripture, and in the proclamation of the Word of God at every Holy Eucharist.

Second, Mary showed herself a truly devout woman of prayer when she offered in praise and thanksgiving her great Magnificat: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Lk 1:46). Praise and thanksgiving must be the living heart of the prayer life of every Christian, for it is a celebration of the truth about God: His infinite power, wisdom, and love, and His merciful plan for all creatures. That is why the Church's central act of corporate prayer is traditionally called "The Eucharist," which in ancient Greek meant "Thanksgiving."

In everyday life, we naturally shower praises on the things we love. The literature of the world is filled with poems praising the beauty and virtues of the poet's beloved. Even on the most mundane level, those who love the same books or films, the same singers or the same sports teams, will naturally get together to express their common delight in the objects of their devotion. To praise the things we love is simply to relish them, and to take delight in them. The same is true of praising the Lord, whom we rightly cherish above all things:

O come, let us sing unto the Lord:
Let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
And show ourselves glad in Him with psalms. (Ps 95: 1-2)


In the gospels, Mary is the shining example of one who offers praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote:

Where the ecstasy of love comes from God, it is only natural that its joy should break out into song, as it does in the Magnificat of Mary. Somehow, Mary knows that her love will have a happy ending, even though there will be revolutions dethroning the mighty and unseating the proud. The Queen of Song now sings a song different from that of all other mothers. All mothers sing to their babes, but here is one mother who sings before the Babe is born. She says only a "Fiat" to an angel, she says nothing to Joseph, but she chants verse upon verse of song to God, who looked down on the humility of His handmaid. As the infant leaped in the womb of Elizabeth, so a song leaped to Mary's lips; for if a human heart can so thrill to ecstasy, what joy did she know, who was in love with the Great Heart of God!


Third, we know that Mary was also given to prayerful meditation upon the mysteries of Christ, especially upon the wonders of His Nativity. Twice in the gospels we are told "she kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19, 51). The song of the angels and the coming of the shepherds, the journey of the wise men and the appearance of the star, the many prophecies of the Messiah fulfilled: she treasured and cherished all these memories, pondering them frequently, and uncovering their true meaning. This too is an authentic exercise of the virtue of "devotion": nourishing one's mind and heart on the mysteries of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord.

In fact, according to the Second Vatican Council, in Mary we find the paragon of the whole Church at prayer, meditating ever more deeply on the mysteries of Christ from generation to generation:

The doctrinal tradition, which comes from the apostles, develops in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words that have been handed down. This happens through contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), through the intimate understanding of spiritual things they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her. (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, section 8)


In other words, in the Church as a whole down through the ages, the more she pondered, like Mary, the mysteries of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the more she grew in wisdom and in clarity of doctrine. The same can be true for each one of us as individuals: the more we meditate, with Mary, on the wonders of God's love for us through his Son, the more we shall grow in wisdom and understanding.

Fourth, the Blessed Virgin shows us that authentic prayer involves humble supplication to the Lord for all our needs. At the Wedding Feast at Cana, for example, she interceded with her son on behalf of the simple, material and social needs of a bride and groom: "They have no more wine" (Jn 2:3). In the cenacle after Christ's ascension, she joined in prayer with the community of disciples, waiting and praying for the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised by the Lord (Acts 1:4).

Access the series to date.

Next Time: Deeper Dimensions of Our Lady's Devotion

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Mary - Who She Is and Why She Matters (Marian Press, 2016).

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