Mary and the Mystical Body of Christ By Father Menard
Dec 14, 2016
Our age has witnessed a profound reaction against the excesses of Marian devotion. Our contemporaries, especially the women, are irritated by any bias in favor of the exaggerated, the extraordinary, the privileged. Books and sermons on the Blessed Virgin have long tended to inflated terminology and exaggerated praise (“Mary is almost divine;” “Her power is almost infinite;” “She is almost part of the godhead”). Such a style disgusts a clear-thinking listener: Is not the truth about Mary beautiful enough, without people thinking they must improve on it if they are to do her honor?
It might be thought that many members of the Church, which holds woman in very low esteem and refuses them any important responsibilities, has tried to make up for this contempt in real life by a frenzied exultation of the ideal woman in Mary. The men and especially the women of our day are inclined, however, to say rather:
“If God could do so much that was exceptional because of his delight in a creature, why did he not show this kind of favor to a greater number of individuals? After all, he gathers only what he sows. If he is so stingy with his favors, that is not our fault. On the other hand, if his lavish hand bestowed upon Mary an Immaculate Conception, a superabundance of grace, impeccability, the divine maternity, a virginal conception, the Assumption, and a universal mediatorship, then things were made very easy for her, and her life is really of no interest to us, since we are not thus privileged and favored, we’re not God’s favorites as she was.”
The ecumenical movement in its present stage has, in addition, led Catholics to play down what divides us. In fact, an immoderate type of devotion and an excessively speculative theology have turned Mary into a cause of division, whereas, being a Mother, she was intended to unite us!
After all, our age is thirsty for what is essential, direct, and certain. It is not satisfied with intermediaries, but wants to get to the heart of all questions. But the great question today is the question of God or atheism, immanence or transcendence, the vertical or the horizontal, God or man.
The less believing an age is, the more dangerous secondary devotions become. In times when faith is alive even the most ingenious religious practices will be marked by fervor and will be made authentic by the power of the faith. But when faith grows weak, the various special devotions turn as it were into anemic blood-vessels: they harden, get isolated from the body as a whole, and do harm to it. The contemporary devitalization of faith thus threatens to turn manifestations of piety, that in another age were quite moving, into superstitions and sources of irritation to others. Our faith is too reduced for us not to concentrate on the essentials.
Too often, the inadequate and superficial cult of Mary and the saints grows strong in direct proportion to a real dechristianization. The people who find God too distant, Christ too divine, revelation too obscure, and the Holy Spirit too incomprehensible, fall back on secondary devotions, doubtful apparitions, and private devotions. The periphery becomes crowded as the center grows empty. The Antichrist finds his prey in all those who think that God has not revealed himself sufficiently in Christ, that he has not drawn close enough to us in Jesus, that the Father has not shown himself propitious enough to us.
Finally, many think that they can obtain from the Blessed Virgin and the saints what they would not obtain from God. They think of themselves as being closer to these intermediaries than to Christ, and as being better loved by them than by God! As if anyone could look upon us more lovingly than the Father does; as if a creature could understand us better than the Creator does; as if Christ had not made every possible effort to draw close to us!
This kind of devotion to Mary and the saints brings an impoverishment in our idea of God. When Christians of this mentality pray to the saints, they pray correspondingly less to God. They managed the paradoxical achievement of taking away from God what he unceasingly gives to his saints!
It must be said, however, that this seeming eclipse of the Blessed Virgin is also the occasion for a return to, and deeper understanding of, the sources. Our age is all for return to Scripture–but the Gospel is the most authentic and fruitful source of a genuine Marian devotion! Catholics must be urged to a rereading (or perhaps a first reading?) of the Gospels, so that they may discover to their amazement how human, how fresh, how rich in meaning the texts are which speak of Mary.
The Annunciation, for example, shows us the calling of Mary, but the scene also enables each of us to see his or her own call in Mary’s.
We should note that the Gospel does not say that Mary saw an angel. She received a message, a “mission” from God, just as we do every day if we are heedful of all the needy and wretched people who make an appeal to us. The angel speaks, but is not said to have shown himself. It is simply the case that Mary, like each of us, received a summons, a call from God. This call is always the same: God must be given his place in the world today; Christ is not done with being born and growing this very day, and we are all responsible for his coming into this world of ours, we are all summoned to take part in the burdensome adventure of making God a living reality in the world.
But how did Mary know that the call really came from God? Even if she saw an angel, how did she recognize him to be a messenger of God? We cannot take just anyone who comes along as an angel sent by God!
The answer is: She did what you do!
To begin with, she reflected, asked questions, challenged the unusual call being issued to her. When we are faced with a word from God, we can adopt either of two attitudes, which are both foolish. One is to say: “I understand it all, it’s quite clear: I have been called. But that does not surprise me: I expected it!” The other is to say: “I don’t understand it at all; I can’t make any sense of it; the whole business is too difficult; pay no attention to it!” Between these two extremes comes the only reasonable response, and it is precisely the one Mary always gave: She did not understand what was being said to her, but she stored it all up in her heart and meditated on it.
In the dialogue of Mary with the angel, St. Luke has given dramatic form to the procedure faith naturally follows: receptivity and reflection, meditation and rational analysis, joy and holy fear, a sense of God and good human sense. As with us, so with Mary all this happened in the course of time; she had to devote time to it, because discernment of the Spirit of God does not happen instantaneously.
In a second stage, Mary consulted the Scriptures. The Magnificat bears witness to how Mary understood her vocation to be continuous with that of all the ‘poor’ who had gone before her, understood it as meant to be spiritually fruitful in a similar way. The Bible showed her that, when God must choose a human being for a special task, he looks for this person among the poor, the lowly, even the barren. She could no longer be surprised that he had chosen her.
Finally, Mary consulted someone with experience. Her cousin Elizabeth was another whose life had been turned upside down by an incredible pregnancy, which forced her “to hide herself away for five months” (Lk 1, 24). Mary therefore “went as quickly as she could” to her (Lk 1, 39), for she could no longer keep her secret to herself, could no longer bear the burden alone.
The two women met and understood each other. They spoke of their trials, their reflections, their prayers. And Elizabeth gave Mary strength, <saying, in all probability>:
“Yes, you are right to believe. Yes, it is the Lord who has been acting in your life. He has asked more of you than of anyone else, but he is generous in proportion to what he asks. Thanks to him, every suffering turns into joy, every trial into a reward. My own child has become for me a source of joy and pride that is a prophetic proclamation of how much greater your own joy will be.”
It was then that Mary sang her Magnificat, and not after the Annunciation, for after the latter she felt much too uneasy and disturbed. The Magnificat sprang from her heart after the Visitation. The real angel in her life was this woman who had suffered as she was suffering, and who encouraged her to believe.
How much time shall we devote to singing our own Magnificat? Our Magnificat for our vocation, for our marriage, for our children, for our parents, for all the missions to which God urges us?
In the Gospel, then, our contemporaries are finding, to their joy and encouragement, all that brings Mary close to each of us. Our age appreciates and savors the simple texts in which the real Mary is to be found: “She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean” (Lk 1, 29); “I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1, 38); “They [Jesus’ parents] were overcome when they saw him” (Lk 2, 48); “But they did not understand what he meant” (Lk 2, 50). And who among us has not been tempted, like Mary, to complain to the Lord and about the Lord, as she did to her Son: “My child, why have you done this to us?” (Lk 2, 48)?
It is striking also to see Jesus’ apparent harshness to Mary in the Gospel: “‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’“ (Mk 3, 32-33); “Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet” (Jn 2, 4). Some commentators have felt obliged to soften the hard tone. But is it not more suitable to see in it the surest sign of the complete understanding that existed between Jesus and Mary? He knew that he could ask anything and everything of her, and from her he expected the unconditional fidelity that she showed him.
Step by step, Jesus brought her to accept the terrible will of God, which is never what we would have wanted: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1, 38). The Blessed Virgin’s entire life was simply an echo of this reply, on which the world’s salvation depended.
She completed her sacrifice at the foot of the cross, where she surrendered her Son and agreed to be mother to the human race that had put him to death: “Woman, there is your son” (Jn 19, 26).
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother…” (Jn 19, 25).
To believe that Mary is our mother is to believe that she can give birth in us to sons and daughters like herself. It means accepting that what is said of her can also become true of us. To not let yourselves be deceived by the privileges and the miracles, but apply to yourselves what is revealed to us about her:
– “The angel of the Lord brought the message to Mary.” To each of us the Lord is constantly addressing his call.
– “And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.” We are asked to welcome the Lord within us for the salvation of the world. We can think of our life in worldly terms or in terms of the Spirit.
– “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” <We can choose to open ourselves to the Lord> as Mary did, or to close ourselves.
– “And the Word became man, and dwelt among us.” Mary is Mother of God… What can we add?
Every time that someone faithfully imitates Mary and speaks once again in the original Fiat, the incarnation is continued, redemption is extended, and the number of God’s children is increased as the number of Mary’s children grows.