Mary: Who She Is and Why She Matters

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Part 11: Deeper Dimensions of Our Lady's Devotion

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jan 25, 2017)
The following is part 11 of a special series on the role Mary plays in the life of the Church.

Mary is not only an example for us of humble petition for material and spiritual needs (see last week's installment in this series); she is also the one whom Jesus gave to us from the Cross to be our spiritual mother, the merciful mother whom we can invoke to aid us in our own devout supplications at any time of need or distress. Father Alexander De Rouville illustrated Our Lady's Spiritual Motherhood in the following passage from The Imitation of Mary:

My child, you do not have perfect confidence in me. At times you are slow to call on me when you are in need, and at all times you seem unsure of my good will toward you.

I want you to have all the confidence in me that any son should have in his mother, knowing as he does her tender love, and her goodness. Come to me always and everywhere, in all your spiritual and temporal needs, in difficulties of soul and body, in the difficulties of your relatives and friends. ...

My child, in whatever difficult situation you find yourself, invoke my aid and I will intercede for you.

If there is anything you want that is not contrary to God's glory and your own salvation, ask me and I will always be ready to hear you.

Do not ask for anything unless you also want God's will to be done. Any prayer made to me in that spirit will never be fruitless.

In our life of devotion, therefore, we have an advantage that even Mary herself did not have: we have recourse to her, our spiritual mother! We have a Mother to whom we can always turn for aid along our life journey. As the Mother of Mercy, she will unfailingly support us in all our faithful supplications, and comfort us in all our afflictions.

Moreover, to plumb the mystery of Mary's virtue of devotion even more deeply, we can "read between the lines" of Holy Scripture, and reflect on other ways that Mary grew in devotion throughout her life. For example, imagine the Blessed Virgin receiving the Holy Eucharist — the risen and glorified Body and Blood of her own Son — from the hands of St. John the apostle, the one into whose care Jesus had entrusted her from the Cross. She who had once borne the Son of God in her womb, and carried Him in her arms, now fed on Him as the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35)!

Blessed John Henry Newman reminds us that in the traditional Catholic Litany of Our Lady, Mary is given the title "Singular Vessel of Devotion," because the fire in her heart of true devotion to the Lord must have surpassed that of any of the apostles and saints:

This intense devotion to our Lord, forgetting self in love for him, is instanced in St. Paul, who says, "I know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified." And again, "I live [yet] now not I, but Christ liveth in me; and [the life] that I now live in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and delivered himself for me."

But great as was St. Paul's devotion to our Lord, much greater was that of the Blessed Virgin; because she was His Mother, and because she had him and all his sufferings actually before her eyes, and because she had the long intimacy of thirty years with him, and because she was from her special sanctity so ineffably near to him in Spirit. When, then, he was mocked, bruised, scourged, and nailed to the cross, she felt it as keenly as if every indignity and torment inflicted on him was struck at herself. She could have cried out in agony at every pang of his. This is called her compassion, or her suffering with her Son, and it arose from this, that she was the "Singular Vessel of Devotion."

It becomes clear from Mary's example, therefore, that the devout use of prayer and the Sacraments cannot, all by itself, be the fullness of the virtue of "devotion." True devotional piety always has an aim and an object: it is meant to kindle within us the flame of true love for God and for all His children. This is why Mary is called "Singular Vessel of Devotion": because she is the shining example of such devotion to the highest degree. No one was ever more filled with devout love for God than the Blessed Virgin. Saint Alphonsus explains:

God has indeed given men the precept to love him with their whole heart, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart. ... On this subject [St.] Albert the Great remarks that in a certain sense, it would have been unbecoming had God given a precept that was never to have been perfectly fulfilled [by any creature]. But this would have been the case had not the divine Mother fulfilled it. The saint says, "Either someone fulfilled this precept or no one; if anyone it must have been the most Blessed Virgin." Richard of St. Victor confirms this opinion, saying, "The Mother of our Emmanuel practiced virtues in their very highest perfection. Who has ever fulfilled as she did that first commandment, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart? In her divine love was so ardent that no defect of any kind could have gained access to her." "Divine love," says St. Bernard, "so penetrated and filled the soul of Mary that no part of her was left untouched; so that she loved with her whole heart, with her whole soul, with her whole strength, and was full of grace. ... And because Mary was all on fire with the love of God, all who love and approach her are inflamed by her with this same love; for she renders them like unto herself." If we also desire to burn with those blessed flames, let us endeavour always to draw nearer to our Mother by our prayers and the affections of our souls.

Saint Alphonsus closes his meditations on Mary's love of God with the following prayer. Although it is written in the florid style of the 18th century, the sentiments he expresses can still become our own:

Mary, thou Queen of love, of all creatures the most amiable, the most beloved, and the most loving ... my own sweet Mother, thou wast always, and in all things inflamed with love towards God; deign, then, to bestow at least a spark of it on me. Thou didst pray thy Son for the spouses whose wine had failed: They have no wine. And wilt thou not pray for us, in whom this love of God, whom we are under such obligation to love, is wanting? Say also, They have no love, and obtain for us this love. This is the only grace for which we ask. O Mother, by the love thou bearest to Jesus, graciously hear and pray for us.

Recite the Chaplet of the Ten Evangelical Virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and prayerfully reflect on Mary's virtue of devotion.

Questions for Discussion for Parts Ten and Eleven
1. What do we mean by the virtue of "devotion" when we say that Mary is the shining example of that gospel virtue?
2. Of the various forms of prayer discussed in parts eleven and twelve of this series (listening to the word of God, praise and thanksgiving, meditation on the mysteries of Christ, and supplication for all our needs), which form do you find the easiest to practice in your own life? Which is the hardest to practice for you? And how can Mary help you in this regard?
3. Why does the Catholic Tradition call Mary the "Singular Vessel of Devotion?"

Suggestions for Further Reading
Read Edward Sri, Walking With Mary, pp. 81-94, the chapter entitled "Keep and Ponder."

Access the series to date.

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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