we get into the topic at hand -- the devotion that Catholics ought to have
toward Jesus and Mary—it would be wise to review the terminology the Church
uses for such things. Sometimes we give people (non-Catholics, especially)
the idea that we hold outlandish beliefs—simply because we are not careful
about our own terminology, or because we let others use improper terminology
when talking about our beliefs.
first terms are the words "worship" and "adoration."
In everyday English these words are a bit ambiguous, and are sometimes used in
relatively trivial ways. Sometimes they refer to the relationship with a
"significant other"; a husband, a wife, or a child, as in
"he worships her," or even "he worships the ground she walks
on." Some people "adore apple pie."
would suggest that the words "worship" and "adoration," at
least in the context of our relationship to God and the saints, ought to be
reserved only for God. We can say that "we worship God," or that
"we worship" or "we adore" any of the members of the Blessed
Trinity, Father, Son, or Holy Ghost. We can "worship" or
"adore" the Blessed Sacrament, for it is the body, blood, soul, and
divinity of Jesus Christ. We ought not to say that "we worship
Mary," or that "we adore St. Joseph (even though colloquially we
might consider him "adorable"), and we absolutely never
"adore" or "worship" statues. Worship, adoration, and
the Greek equivalent "latria" pertain in this context to God
alone. In my diagram, they relate only to the divine Persons represented
by the triangular shape at the top of the page.
we speak about created beings like men and angels, we ought to use a word like
"veneration" for the honor which we pay to them, or the respect we
have for them. The theologians use the Greek word "dulia."
Even in the case of the Blessed Virgin, our respect takes the form of
"veneration," or perhaps even "greatest veneration" ("hyperdulia").
Likewise, when we pay respect to
some material object of our Faith, like a relic, or a crucifix, or a scapular,
the appropriate terms are words like "venerate" or "revere."
we can "pray" to God, and we can "pray" to His creatures who
are in a position to help us, His angels and His saints. Words like
"praise," "honor," "glorify," and "pay
tribute to," are a bit more neutral and might be applied to creatures as
well as to their Creator. Some of this, of course is custom or a matter of
linguistic usage, and the words we use may change over time -- but the heart of
what I am saying is that we should never give the impression that we consider
one of God's creatures on the same plane as we consider Him. We don't want
to appear to be breaking the First Commandment.
also ought to consider the titles that the Church uses in reference to the
Blessed Virgin. I am thinking particularly of three:
"Mother of God," "Mediatrix," and "co-Redemptrix."
These are all appropriate and fitting titles for our Lady, but they ought to
mean what the Church means in using them.
is the "Mother of God," in that, at a certain time in history, she
gave physical substance to the body of Jesus Christ, and that she carried that
divine Infant in her womb as mothers do, gave birth to Him, and raised Him to
manhood. Jesus Christ is inseparably God and man, so the Mother of Jesus
Christ is the Mother of God as well as man. When we use this title,
however, we are not saying in any way that Mary existed before God in eternity.
is the "Mediatrix," but that does not mean that she displaces her Son
as Mediator between God and man. The phrase "to Jesus through
Mary" is a good one that ought to be part of our thinking. It may not
be a glamorous analogy, but if we are the members of the Mystical Body of
Christ, and He is our Head, then Mary is, so to speak, the "Neck" of
the Mystical Body.
Mary is the "co-Redemptrix," but that doesn't mean that Mary redeemed
us without Jesus. It means, more correctly, that she was an instrument in
God's plan of Redemption, a physical co-operator, and one who made a gift of
what was hers by right of motherhood, and who suffered greatly with her Son in
the anguish of His Crucifixion.
more definitions before we get to the matter at hand:
"Redemption" and "Salvation." We know that the sin of
Adam left all of mankind somehow cut off from God, unable to do anything
meritorious in His eyes—the illustration in the Catechism is that the
"gates of Heaven were shut by original sin." By His sacrifice on
the Cross, our Lord "opened the gates of Heaven." That is to say
that He "redeemed" mankind; that every person on earth is now
radically capable of entering Heaven and enjoying eternal life; all men
even though all men are redeemed, not all will take advantage of their
opportunity. Some will hear the word of God and reject it, others will
accept it for a while but will be distracted by earthly temptation, some will
simply be to lazy to do what is required of them. "Salvation,"
is successfully doing what is expected of one on earth, and ultimately
persevering so as to be rewarded with Heaven at the end of life.
mention this distinction because our Lord has given His Church the basic means
to facilitate our salvation. He has given us Baptism, by which faith leads
to Sanctifying Grace, and Confirmation by which we are strengthened in that
Grace. He has given us Sacramental Confession so that Grace can be
restored if fall into sin. He has given us Extreme Unction, either to heal
us or to prepare us for eternity. He has given us Holy Communion to aid us
in our perseverance by being personally with us.
normal circumstances, the Sacraments are the necessary means established by
Christ for our salvation. We are obligated to make use of them to the best
of our ability. It would be seriously wrong to unnecessarily substitute
some form of prayer or good work for the reception of the Sacraments. The
Sacraments are not optional, because they are prescribed by Jesus Christ—we
are not free to go to Him in prayer (or to His Blessed Mother) simply because we
would prefer to avoid the Sacraments that are necessary and available to us.
The Mass and Sacraments are the primary devotions of Christians to our Lord.
that note, let us ask ourselves, "Just who is our Lord Jesus Christ and why
should we have devotion for Him?" The most obvious answer is that He
is God, the Son of God, and the Person of the Trinity with whom we can best
identify. Artists have always had to represent the Father and the Holy
Ghost symbolically, for the drawing of pure spirits represents a serious
technical problem. We know that God the Father is not really an old man,
nor is the Holy Ghost a dove—we can identify more easily with the Second
Person of the Trinity because He is pictured and can be imagined in a body like
our own. We can identify with Jesus Christ because He allowed Himself to
be subjected to many of the limitations our bodies bring to us: like us,
He knew what it was to do physical work and earn His keep; He felt the
heat of summer and the cold of winter; when they pierced Him, He bled.
Our Lord was like us in every aspect except sin. When we got to Jesus, we
go to someone whom we know understands the human condition, precisely because He
was truly human.
know, too, that He was truly God. That "He was begotten of the Father
before all ages.... of one substance with the Father."
That He was in the beginning with God, and that He was God, and that all things
were made through Him.
Understand that the Second Person of God existed from eternity, and did not come
into being on March 25th at the Annunciation or nine months later on December
25th, those are only the dates of His incarnation and birth in human form.
Lord is unique in all existence, for He actually straddles that line between
Creator and creation. Mary, of course, doesn't do that, but she comes
awfully close! Mary was conceived in the mind of God as the Mother of His
Son, before He even began the process of creation. When Adam and Eve
sinned, as He foresaw that they would, God was already prepared to announce that
He would send a Redeemer, the seed of a woman, as he told the devil:
"I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed,
and she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel."
That's why the Church feels free to borrow that text from Proverbs for the feast
of her Immaculate Conception, as though it were Mary speaking of her conception
in eternity: "The Lord begot me, the firstborn of His ways.... When
He established the heavens I was there ... when He set for the sea its limit ...
when He fixed the foundations of the earth."
Still, of course she is a created being.
she is also the spouse of her Creator: "The Holy Ghost shall come
upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, and therefore
the Holy to be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Of her
own free will she chose to cooperate with God in the most intimate manner
possible for a woman: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it
done to me according to thy word."
But even still, she is a created being.
she is also the Mother of her Creator. As we said just a few moments ago,
everything material in Jesus Christ came from or through Mary. Every
chromosome, every cell, He was flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone.
And that didn't even stop with birth, for it was her cooking and her sewing that
kept Him fed and clothed. She may still be a created being, but she is the
only one in all existence that God Himself can properly call
"daughter," "wife," and "mother."
won't say much about Saint Joseph today, but his role in cooperation with Mary's
divine motherhood clearly places him rather close to that line between Creator
and creature, himself. In many ways he was truly the father of
Christ—not biologically of course—but as provider and protector and even
teacher. His chastity, and his generosity, and his trust in divine
providence are examples of virtue that far outshine any other mortal man.
Imagine having the distinction of being the man who taught Jesus Christ how to
pray His human prayers; the man who taught the Creator how to create
things in wood.
Holy Family, then seems to exist precisely for the purpose of uniting God and
man. No—let me change that—the Holy Family exists to re-unite
God and man; to undo the damage done by Adam and Eve, so that men could
once again walk the face of the earth in Sanctifying Grace, animated by the
Spirit of God within them.
each one of them we see a spirit of sacrifice -- a sacrifice on our behalf, that
ought to inspire our everlasting gratitude and devotion. They were not
"dirt poor" as some unwisely suggest, but anyone who has read the
Gospels knows that their lives were difficult. Israel was no longer
flowing with milk and honey, having been the victim of numerous foreign
invaders, or whom the Romans were merely the latest. Joseph seems to have
died somewhere between our Lord's twelfth and thirtieth year. Better than
any of the Apostles, Mary seems to have known that her Son's destiny was both
great and foreboding—she had known since the fortieth day of His life that He
was "destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, for a sign that
shall be contradicted," and that a sword of sorrow would "pierce her
soul." Ultimately, she
would accompany Him to Calvary and would stand at the foot of His Cross,
offering what truly belonged to her in sacrifice for our benefit.
we look at the same Sacrifice from the perspective of her Son, we see yet more.
This was the Son of God who came down to live among men in order to show them
the ways of His Father in Heaven. This was the ultimate condescension: the
Infinite Superior not just consorting with but adopting the form of the
inferior. Bishop Sheen used to have a startling analogy: "We
can all imagine a man who likes dogs; and we can imagine a man who likes
dogs well enough to devote his life to them [a veterinarian, for example, or
someone working in an animal shelter]; but none of us can imagine liking
dogs well enough to become a dog, giving up the power of speech and having to
walk about on all four for the rest of our lives."
And that, in essence is what our Lord did.
He went a step further, a step even more unimaginable: He allowed Himself
to be crucified for these creatures whom He loved, and one of which He became.
He knew that He could never simply explain the consequences of sin to us and
have it mean anything; He had to demonstrate them. He had to leave
us the mental image of the crucifix; of the God-man being brutally nailed
to the cross, and dying the hours-long death by asphyxiation that was normally
reserved for criminals. He died only when He was too exhausted to raise
Himself on the nails to take another breath. (Every Catholic ought to read
Dr. Barbet's book, A Doctor at Calvary, to understand the magnitude of the
pain and suffering.)
And it was a death so shameful that it took Christians centuries to think of
displaying the crucifix as a thing of honor and veneration.
think of the pain in our Lord's heart to die the death of a criminal and leave
His Mother in the custody of a friend. Not even the foreknowledge of His
Resurrection could wipe out that anguish. So, easily we can say that our
Lord's life and death were doubly sacrificial on our behalf.
how do we show our gratitude? What sort of devotions might please our Lord
and even lessen the burden of His sufferings?
is clear first of all that He wants us to live the life of Sanctifying
Grace—that life filled with His Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the other
Sacraments, as we mentioned earlier. Again, this is really not optional.
Yet, we might build on it by receiving the Sacraments more than
"necessary"; daily Mass if possible, frequent Confession,
attendance at Benediction or Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. How about
frequent visits to Him in the tabernacle, even if only mentally, for He waits
with infinite patience to receive us as His guest before the tabernacle.
we can assume that we are to follow His example in living a life of prayer.
The Gospels have Him going aside to speak to His Father throughout all the
events of His life—no doubt He did so to instruct us to do the same.
That prayer can be the formal prayers that He and His Church teach us. It
can be the very same Psalms that Saint Joseph taught Him to pray—that's why we
are placing such emphasis on the Divine Office during these days. Or
perhaps our prayer will be more meditative, calling to mind the events of His
life as we do in the proper recitation of the Rosary or the Stations of the
Cross (or other meditations). And, hopefully, our prayer will get to where
we can sometimes just sit and listen to what God has to say to us.
there has to be activity in the life devoted to Christ. On
one hand we must be active in resisting sin and avoiding the occasions of
sin—the persons, places, and things that often cause us to fall from grace.
We must not hate the material world, but we must keep it in proper perspective.
At a minimum there must be self discipline, which can only be achieved through
mortification and abstinence from the legitimate pleasures, preparing us to
reject the "not so legitimate" pleasures of life. Some brave
souls will go on to actual vows of Poverty, chastity, and obedience. Many
will live somewhere in between.
must also be activity on behalf of Christ, which is to say on behalf of our
neighbors. "When did we feed Thee, Lord, or give Thee to drink; when
did we clothe Thee; when did we take Thee in as a stranger, or visit Thee
when sick or in prison?" The answer, of course, is "when we did
these things for the least of His brethren"—our brethren.
In the modern world this goes far beyond simple charity to include the
obligations incumbent on citizens, and parishioners, and family members, and so
forth. Look up the passage that I just paraphrased (Matthew xxv: 31-46)
and you will see what happens to those who never do these things for Christ.
we might ask ourselves whether it is enough to have devotion to Jesus Christ.
In a sense, it probably is. It seems unlikely that the Father and the Holy
Ghost could ever be jealous—and virtually all of our prayers and good works
are done in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, anyway.
But confining devotion to our Lord alone may not be the thing most pleasing to
God. The Blessed Virgin Mary is in God's plans for much more than the
practical necessity of having a Mother for His Son.
is the Mother of us all—for we were represented by Saint John at the foot of
Cross, and we were entrusted to her care, as she was entrusted to us:
"Woman behold thy son(s) ... son(s) behold thy Mother."
I've put the plural (s) in parenthesis after the word son, according to the
immemorial tradition that it includes all of us as Mary's sons and daughters.
it is my personal belief that the sons need Mary even more than the daughters.
Obviously the daughters need her as a role model, in much the same way that men
ought to model their lives after Saint Joseph. But, roughly fifty percent
of the human race is made up of men, and most of those men would be embarrassed
even to imagine, let alone think, the thoughts that religious women often speak
out loud about Jesus Christ. I don't at all mean this to belittle the
devotion of holy women—but most men would be very hard pressed to keep from
blushing or giggling if they had to describe themselves as "brides" or
"intimate lovers" of Christ. We do much better with a Mother
than with a Husband. And even for women as well as for men, it is often
easier, mentally, to approach a motherly authority figure than a masculine one.
Mary has been seen as an "easier mark" ever since that incident at the
Wedding Feast in Cana of Galilee!
If anyone here is thinking about becoming a priest, you should understand that
Mary is the Mother of the Priesthood—not just by some pious title, but in
actuality. Every man who ever stood or will stand before the altar to
consecrate bread and wine is another Christ, anyone who sits in the Confessional
and forgives the sins of the penitent is another Christ, even if all of us are
considerably more motley than her first Son. She is the Mother of the
Priesthood by virtue of the fact that she, more than any other created being is
entitled to offer up the Body and Blood of Christ, and more than any other
created being she can say truthfully "This is my body..." for He is
flesh of her flesh.
number of devotions to Mary and Jesus are as numerous as the stars. There
are any number of approved medals, and scapulars, and cinctures, and dresses,
and chaplets, and so forth. Remember, though, that none of these things
are magic charms. For them to be truly useful, they must inspire holy
qualities in us. We must make use of them as reminders of our call to lead
virtuous lives, and to unite ourselves in the prayers and good works of the
entire Church; militant, triumphant, and suffering.
a priest, I must caution against running too quickly to new innovations.
The traditional canon law forbids it, but dubious apparitions have constituted a
thriving industry in the world of airline transportation, inexpensive printing,
and video tapes. No private revelation is ever necessary for your
salvation. Things that are genuine will endure.
personal favorites are the Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel and the Dominican
Rosary. The one clothes us in a habit given to a religious order whose
first Christian monks actually knew the Blessed Virgin. The second follows
her orders to make converts through prayer and meditation on the events of her
life, and that of her Son. I suppose I would also urge the
"Miraculous Medal" which honors her under her title of the Immaculate
Conception; perhaps one of her most important.
is not a sacramental, but the "Heroic Act of Charity," is in my
estimation a very commendable act. One essentially puts all of the merits
and indulgences one gains in her hands for disposition by her. It shows
great trust in our Blessed Lady and has the added benefit of leaving such
things to one who know the true need of the world and never forgets (as many of
us are prone to).
are numerous solid books on Marian piety. St. Louis de Montfort is among
the best writers. St. Bernard of Clairvaux is good, as is St. Alphonsus de
Liguori, although the latter writes in a flowery style a bit difficult for
modern titles, I would suggest reading Henri Daniel-Rops, The Book of Mary;
William G. Most, Mary in Our Life; and Frank Sheed, The Mary
Book—if you can find copies. The Rosary in Action is a
terrible title for a great book by John S. Johnson, and it is available
me bring all this to a close with one final point. Devotion to Jesus and
Mary is the Hallmark of authentic Christianity. We haven't talked at all
directly about the objections of Protestants to Marian devotion -- that would
take another conference or two—perhaps some other time. But I would like
to read to you my favorite piece of writing on the subject, written around the
beginning of the 20th century by a convert to Catholicism, Monsignor Ronald
They have said that we deify her; that is not because we exaggerate
the eminence of God's Mother, but because they belittle the eminence of God.
A creature miraculously preserved from sin by the indwelling power of the Holy
Ghost -- that is to them a divine title, because that is all the claim their
grudging theologies will concede, often enough, to our Lord Himself. They
refuse to honor the God-bearing Woman because their Christ is only a God-bearing
Man. We who know that God could (if He would) annihilate every existing
creature without abating anything of His blessedness or His glory, are not
afraid less the honor done to His creature of perfect Womanhood should prejudice
the honor due to Him. Touchstone of truth in the ages of controversy,
romance of the medieval world, she has not lost with the rise of new devotions,
any fragment of her ancient glory. Other lights may glow and dim as the
centuries pass, she cannot suffer change; and when a Catholic ceases to honor
her, he ceases to be a Catholic.