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The Age of Mary

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Doctor Mark Miravalle, professor of theology and mariology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, explains Marian apparitions, Marian dogma, and why we live in a particularly Marian age.

What's consistent about the approved Marian apparitions?
Mary gives messages specifically focused to a given culture, taking into account the particular needs of the region to which she appears. Mothers are great with details.

But even though there are many approved apparitions, Mary has been giving us one fundamentally unified message. She calls us to return to the Gospel and to live generously, especially through prayer and penance. Mary reveals herself in these private revelations in the hopes that we will receive the fullness of public revelation. Public revelation comes from Scripture and Tradition. Private revelation is ongoing and accentuates something in the Gospel that God wants us to focus on and appreciate in a new and higher way.

Have there been more Marian apparitions recently?
There have been more approved Marian apparitions since 1830 than any other comparable period in the history of the Church. We, therefore, call this time "the age of Mary." Numerous Marian apparitions have become necessary for our modern times because we have not been living the Gospel with authenticity. We desperately need to return to the message of the Gospel and the Church.

To whom does Mary generally appear?
In general, she tends to appear to those who have simple faith. Often, these people are not at the height of wealth or power in society. Our Lady has not appeared in any major apparitions to theologians because if she appeared to one of us, we would, of course, very quickly confuse the message with unnecessary distinctions and commentaries. Our Lady appears to those who are simple so that the message can be conveyed surely, without unnecessary commentary. Simple faith does not imply any lack of depth of faith. It simply means these people have not often had very much education. Mary uses these men, women, and children to assist in the purity of the transmission of the message.

What else should we know about the age of Mary?
In addition to the many Marian apparitions, we've had more definitions of Marian dogma in this time than in any other comparable age. In 1854, [Pope Blessed] Pius IX defined the third Marian dogma: the Immaculate Conception. In 1950, Pope [Venerable] Pius XII defined the fourth Marian dogma: Mary's Assumption.

Apparitions can influence dogmatic definitions. For example, it was the apparition to St. Catherine Laboure, the "Miraculous Medal apparition," in 1830 that served as a form of final confirmation to Pope Pius IX to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The prayer that must be said along with the medal is, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." Private revelation helps direct the development of doctrine. It encourages the Church to highlight aspects of the Gospel that are particularly important for a given age.

What are some common misunderstandings regarding Mary's Immaculate Conception?
Many Catholics only see Mary's Immaculate Conception in a negative context — that the dogma simply means Mary was conceived without original sin. While that is true, we must understand what this dogma means in a positive context. It underscores the fact that Our Lady is full of grace. The saints excel in grace, but Our Lady alone has the plenitude of grace. Mary is God the Father's greatest masterpiece of creation, after the humanity of Jesus.

What does the dogma of the Assumption tell us about Mary?
The Assumption is the capstone of a life full of grace. Mary was not only free from original sin, but also, as the Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches, had no actual sin, despite having free will. The Assumption calls us to imitate Mary's freedom from sin. Of course, we all fall short of that. But we want to have a high standard, and Our Lady sets the highest standard. The Assumption also confirms the promise of the resurrection of the body.

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