Mary and the Liturgy Print
By Kristina Johannes   
Saturday, 10 September 2011

Unless you’ve been living for some time on Mars, you know that the English texts of the liturgy are undergoing revision. This revision is accompanied by great hope that it will allow the teachings of Vatican II on the liturgy finally to bear their full and authentic fruit. While I wholeheartedly share this hope, there is something equally fundamental to liturgical renewal calling for our attention – a proper ordering of Marian devotion in the life of every Catholic.

I have to admit that I stumbled upon this recently while doing research about Church teaching on Mary’s mediation. Pope Paul VI’s prophetic gifts were not limited to Humanae Vitae, in which he warned of the ill consequences of contraception. In 1967 he issued Marialis Cultis – an apostolic exhortation whose purpose was to highlight the development of doctrine on Mary and its relationship to liturgical renewal. 

In this document, Pope Paul VI stated: “every authentic development of Christian worship is necessarily followed by a fitting increase of veneration for the Mother of the Lord.” If you’re curious, you can read more deeply here into Paul’s explanation of why this is so. 

Given that we know there is a yardstick by which to measure authentic development of worship, both personally and corporately – increased devotion to Mary – let’s see how things stack up.  

Experience has shown that the hoped for liturgical renewal has not fully occurred. Instead of our churches bursting at the seams, we are now closing them at an alarming rate. Few understand the nature of Holy Mass or the Blessed Sacrament. Attendance has plummeted. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have fallen off to seemingly disastrous levels.

At the same time, what has happened to the veneration of Mary? It too has plummeted. The processions, novenas, rosaries, and consecrations of earlier generations have largely fallen by the wayside. Dissenters regularly deny the settled dogmas on Mary. One is more likely to hear cautions against devotion to Mary than encouragement in its practice. 

But take heart. Paul VI’s formula provides a sure guide to be followed at this important juncture. As he explained, proper devotion to the Blessed Mother is an indication of genuine piety because its presence demonstrates a recognition of the singular place that Mary holds in God’s redemptive plan, always directed to and flowing from Christ Who is the one Mediator between God and man. Increasing the understanding of this mystery will lead to an increase in fruitful participation in the liturgy, one of the hallmarks of liturgical renewal. 

Mary is integral to God’s saving design, not by necessity, but by God’s own will. She is the gift He has given to Himself and to us:  Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. This latter title was confirmed by Vatican II and captures the essence of that Council’s development on the doctrine of Mary. Once Catholics again grasp the importance of “taking Mary into their homes” as their mother, the renewal will be well on its way.

As mother, Mary stood beneath the cross and willingly offered her Divine Son to God the Father on our behalf. At that moment she fully earned her title of Mother to us all in the order of grace, and Christ confirmed this from the Cross. But she understood the nature of her motherhood much earlier in her fiat at the Annunciation. 

She said yes to her motherhood of us at the same time she said yes to her motherhood of Christ the Lord. Her whole life was a journey of growth in this expansive role of mother. From Heaven she continues her maternal intercession on our behalf with the increased knowledge and understanding she receives through her communion with the Blessed Trinity. Having cooperated in our spiritual birth, she constantly oversees our growth as Christians.

Whether we know it or not, every grace we have received from Christ has passed through her Immaculate Heart. There are many graces we might not have received had she not intervened on our behalf. Her intercession at the wedding at Cana demonstrates this without a doubt. And whether we know it or not, Mary is the reason we found Christ. She spiritually repeats the mystery of the Visitation, as many times as there are souls to be won for Christ.

Devotion to Mary is not optional; not some sort of sideline that Catholics can partake of if they desire. God’s gift of her to us requires our response as loving children. And that increase in filial piety is the stuff of which liturgical renewal is made. Once it bursts forth, we will know things are on track.

September is the month in which we celebrate Mary’s birth. This year give her the gift of (re)reading two important documents:  Pope Paul VI’s Marialis Cultis, and Blessed John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater


Kristina Johannes, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is president of Our Lady of Mercy Praesidium, Legion of Mary, in Anchorage, Alaska. She is a registered nurse and a certified teacher of natural family planning for the Couple to Couple League. In 1998 she served as a spokeswoman for the Alaska Family Coalition, which successfully worked for passage of the marriage amendment to the Alaska Constitution.

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