Devotion to saints, those holy men and women who preceded us on earth and who are now with God in heaven, has been a vital part of Catholic culture and practice since the early centuries of the Church. In particular, we venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary. We honor her as the mother of God, the mother of the Church and also our mother.
Representations of the Blessed Virgin as an aid to prayer have appeared on frescoes in the catacombs of Rome, on icons, and on statues and paintings in churches around the world and over the centuries. Many of our finest Catholic hymns are about Mary, reflecting the affection Christians have always had for her. She is not a distant figure, but close to us as our model of faith, intercessor and Holy Mother. In all these roles, she leads us to Christ.
Mary is often called the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus. She believed in an angel’s message even though she didn’t know how it could be. In response to the cry of her relative Elisabeth: “Happy are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be accomplished” at the Visitation, she replied with the beautiful prayer, the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk 1:46-47). Mary is a model of faith and we lean on her example of courage and strength as she accompanies us through difficult times and great life transitions.
In the Gospel according to John, we see Mary as intercessor when she subtly pleads for the wedding procession at the wedding at Cana. It just says two things: “They have no wine” (John 2:3) and “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Although he protests that his time has not yet come, Jesus turns water into wine at his mother’s request. Following ancient Church practices, Catholics often ask Mary to come to God on our behalf. This is what we do when we recite Marian prayers as precious as the “Hail Mary”, the “Hail! Sainte Reine” and the “Memorare”.
Mary is the ideal intermediary because she is close to the Lord and close to us, mother of both. She became the incarnate mother of God when she said to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “According to your word be it unto me” (Luke 1:38). She became the mother of the Church and of her members when Jesus said to her at the foot of the cross: “Woman, behold your son” and to the beloved disciple: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19, 26-27 ). . Later she was with the other disciples in the Upper Room (Acts 1:13) as a member of the early church community in Jerusalem.
There are many ways for the faithful to consecrate themselves to Mary, including the Rosary, the Angelus, Mary’s Gardens, Marian Pilgrimages, and May Coronations. And since her ascension into heaven body and soul, the Church has found many credible apparitions of Mary, generating special devotions and feast days to Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe and others.
In my own life and in my ministry as a priest and bishop, I have always felt close to the Blessed Virgin and appreciated Marian devotions as a means of following her towards Christ. On June 19, the bicentenary of the founding of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, I had the pleasure of rededicating our local Church to Jesus through Mary, culminating in a 33-day pilgrimage during which a blessed statue of Our Lady of Fatima has been extended to 36 parishes in the archdiocese. On March 25, I again appealed to Mary, asking her to watch over our archdiocese. We can be sure of Mary’s motherly care as we strive to be faithful disciples and joyful witnesses.
Holy Mary, Mother of God and our mother, pray for us!