DEVOTION TO MARY

THE CURRENT SITUATION OF THE VENERATION AND DEVOTION TO MARY

IN PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO CHRIST THE KING CHURCH, BINTANGOR

Introduction

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has been, for many years, a faith-nourishing practice for Roman Catholics. In this short essay I present my experience of how Catholics have and continue to appreciate their veneration and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. My presentation is based on my personal experience at Christ the King Parish, Bintangor and my own upbringing in African context (Kenya in particular). I hope to highlight different ways and means by which Catholics practice their devotions, how it holistically nourishes their faith and development. I also wish to identify problems or challenges encountered in the course of practicing this devotion and propose a way forward.

  • The Practice of Veneration and Devotion to Mary in Christ the King Parish

Without any exaggeration, our parish is very Marian. This aspect cannot go without noticing it or feeling it in the parish atmosphere. Devotion to Mary is expressed in various practices into which many parishioners are deeply rooted. It not only characterizes the spiritual life of our parishioners, but even more, it significantly defines who they are and their spirituality as Roman Catholics.

Veneration and devotion to Mary in this parish has been, over many years, evidently very fruitful. It has been, and still is, one of the main means through which many parishioners learn to cultivate the spirit of prayer and service to God and His Church. I believe, we all desire, strive and even struggle to develop and progress spiritually. This journey often comprises inconsistences; forward, stagnation and even sometimes backwards. Consequently, any spiritual practice that would help us soldier ahead would be an opportunity to seize. This explains why devotion to Mary is embraced by many parishioners here in Bintagor and even my people back in Kenya, East Africa.

To be more specific, below are the main practices of veneration and devotion to Mary I have encountered in our parish.

  • Rosary      

Rosary is such a beautiful prayer that helps us to meditate or even contemplate on the life of our Lord Jesus while we seek the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession. It is beyond reasonable doubt to conclude that many of have developed an intimate relationship with God in prayer by praying the rosary. It is tremendous to see how our parishioners commit themselves to praying rosary. I have heard a quite a number of them highly spiritedly saying, “I need to say my rosary today, otherwise, I feel something missing in me.” Many times when I brought some parishioners in my car, depending on the length of the journey, they would prefer to say rosary to just chatting and sharing ordinary stories.

In our parish here we have sixteen cell-groups, also known us basic ecclesial communities (BEC) or block rosary groups. These groups are mainly characterized by the devotion to praying rosary. Very often I do hear our parishioners say, “Today we are going to the family of Mr. so and so to pray rosary.” In reality, these cell-groups’ gatherings are more than only saying rosary. Usually, they would also have scripture reading and reflection then enliven it by praise and worship. It is also, evidently, a tremendous opportunity for cell-group members to bond with each other as they develop closer rapport with “happy hour”. This happens because rosary.

In a summary, the devotion of praying rosary enormously contributes to the spiritual, social and personal growth and development of our parishioners as a community. Given that it is a prayer that is easy to practice and handy, students have also taken it up to practice it in schools and colleges.

  • Novena

Every Saturday in the evening, unless otherwise, we have our novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We regularly do this just before the Sunday eve Mass. Christ the King Parish is peculiarly identified with this devotion as one of the only two parishes in our diocese practicing it. Integrated with the Benediction, Novena devotion is greatly appreciated as an opportunity for thanksgiving to God and offering prayers for families, community, society and the church as a whole. It is obviously an expression of boundless confidence in the intercession of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

  • Marian Feast Days

All the solemnities and feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary are celebrated here with special touch. That is, the singing, church decoration, Mass attendance among others would noticeably define the day. Once a year, on one of the Marian feast days, there would a procession with the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary while we all pray rosary. It is beautiful and prayerful moment of meditation and contemplation of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Redeemer’s Mother, as we seek her intercession. It is on such a day that we do bless statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary which are used in various Cell-groups. It is also the time of renewing commitment and members of different cell-groups.

  • Legion of Mary  

If there is any group that is active in this parish, then it is the Legion of Mary. First, it is the members’ commitment to weekly and monthly meetings and other various activities pertaining to their group. Having been chosen to be their spiritual director, I have learnt a lot including their commitment. Their faithfulness to their constitution is admirable. The Legionaries readiness to serve in the church at any given point in time is remarkable. In the year 2016 a Curia was formed, uniting our parish and our neighboring parish. This has undoubtedly become a platform to aim even higher in growth both spiritually and socially and in the service of God and His Church.

The fact that the Legion of Mary members includes both Adults and youths; it is a great opportunity to groom parishioners who serve in different ministries in the parish. This includes lectors, church wardens, extra-ordinary communion ministers, choir members, etc. In short, among other lay movements in our parish, the Legion of Mary plays a significant role to growth and development of our community.

  • The Current Problems resulting from the Practice of Veneration and Devotion to Mary

Like other devotional practices in our Roman Catholic Church, veneration and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is not without inadequacies. Due to some reasons, we get carried away and miss the point. Below are some of the reasons.

  • Lack of Knowledge of the Proper Practices of Veneration and Devotion

It is understandable that not all of us had the opportunity to be well educated. Thus, there are many Catholics, who though illiterate or may be minimally educated, manifest exceptionally admirable faith in Jesus Christ. This portion of our Catholics may not reasonably understand our church doctrines, but in their simple yet profound faith are living firm witnesses to Christ our Lord.

I once, in our parish, engaged one lady in a conversation regarding the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our prayers.  I asked her saying, “Can God still hear our prayers without Mary’s intercession?” She responded, “No, we need Mother Mary’s intercession”. This can be a very heated up debate because many consider the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary not only needed but a must do. This becomes a grand opportunity for some   non-Catholics to attack us Catholics concluding that Catholics worship Mary. It takes a lot of time and efforts to satisfactorily explain in the most simplified and understandable way the intercessory role of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

  • Some Common Misconceived Tendencies in the Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

In us is always that desire to experience the goodness that our faith in God brings. Sometimes we Catholics crave for this goodness so much that we forget the primary purpose of our faith to know God, love Him, serve Him and be happy with Him eternally in heaven. We many times incline towards experiencing temporal goodness and underplay the eternal goodness. I believe it is from this perspective that misconceptions in our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary arise.

There are many parishioners here in Bintangor Parish, who like some of those I have seen Kenya, would hang their rosaries on their beds, cars, places of work etc. for protection from harm, for instance, accidents. In such a practice, a rosary as a religious article for prayer becomes an end in itself rather than a means of prayer. In my home village, in Kenya there are many Catholics who believe that there is power which emanates from the rosary itself, rather than the prayer that is said using the rosary beads. Would this not be difficult to differentiate from charms that are superstitiously used?

There are times when some parishioners are so embedded into the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary so much that they pray rosary during the celebration of Holy Mass. Though it is not a very common tendency, however, it does occur. On other occasions, there are some legionaries whose commitment to the Legion of Mary would sometimes overshadow the significance of celebrating the Holy Eucharist. Bound by their constitutional obligations, the legionaries have to inevitably attend meetings as required. Howver, this tendency is not common here at Christ the King parish. I observed it happen in Kenya. Legionaries are meant to know that, “there must be a union between meeting and a member, and this union is not effected by a mere mechanical attendance on the part of the latter. An element must enter in to make attendance an efficacious link between meeting and member, and this element is respect”.[1] This is how vital it is to attend Legion meetings. In so doing, it becomes difficult for the legionaries to put their priorities right. What if there is the legion meeting and Holy Mass at the same time?

  • Non-Catholics’ negative Perceptions

Each person is entitled to his/her opinion. But this does not mean, in any case, those individuals’ or group’s opinion is the truth. The truth remains the truth. I do appreciate the fact that non-Catholics have something to say about how we carry out our practice of the devotion to Mary. They certainly challenge us, Catholics, to be more modest in our devotion to Mary. I strongly feel that we are challenged to overcome our naivety of our knowledge of Mariology as a discipline to become more open-minded in our spiritual life. I believe, as many theologians relate, faith and reason are intertwined for they inform and complement each other. I personally admit that I have learnt a lot because I was provoked to do so by some non-Catholics.

On the other hand, it is undeniable, that some non-Catholics are out to unalterably attack Roman Catholics and their religious practices which are not compatible with their own beliefs. Even without proper understanding of what devotion to Mary means to the Catholics, some people would still dare to argue even to the point of wrongly quoting the Holy Scripture. This is an unfortunate happening! It is mostly held by non-Catholics that Catholics worship and adore Mary. Additionally, with all Mary’s icons and statues in churches and houses, it has been concluded that Catholics worship these idols.

In my home village back in Kenya, some pastors do carry some icons of Mary as tools of evangelization. They rubbish the devotion to Mary, rendering it satanic in order to win people for their movements. My mom once met such people who lured her to join them but she simply said, “Nampenda Mama wangu” meaning “I love my mother”, referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There are also individuals who hold that the Blessed Virgin Mary is, for Catholics, a core-redeemer. Like when we say our prayers, why not directed to Jesus or to God? They wonder why we have to seek Mary’s intercession.

  • Personal Recommendation for a Fruitful Practice of Veneration According to the Teaching of the Church in Local Church

To appreciate more deeply our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we need get some reasonably informed reflection on life and role in God’s plan of salvation. Jesus is undoubtedly our Redeemer and the Blessed Virgin Mary played a significant role Jesus’ redeeming process. In the Vatican II documents it clearly highlighted that, “Redeemed in an especially sublime manna by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie”.[2] Thus, the Blessed Virgin Mary is not a co-redeemer with Jesus Christ, but rather the Mother of our Redeemer.

In our African context, the Blessed Virgin Mary is far and widely venerated. Agbonkhianmeghe says, “Devotion to Mary has caught on like a bushfire in the harmattan across the Catholic landscape in Africa.”[3] However, aware of past, current and possible future mistakes in the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he categorically says that, “… is it inappropriate to place Mary outside or over and above the Church. Mary belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ as a disciple and model of what it means to be a child of God, redeemed by Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit”.[4]

I would strongly encourage all Catholics devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary to seek to carefully to understand the doctrine of Mary. It is seriously important to comprehend that Mary’s cult is that of veneration, invocation and imitation. It is not a cult of adoration or worship. By so doing, then we would avoid two extremes of either “false exaggeration” or “too summary an attitude” as Agbonkhianmeghe accurately describes it.[5] Perhaps, this understanding is necessary for those outsiders interested in reading for a more constructive criticism of who Mary is to the Roman Catholics.

It is vital that our understanding the role Mary plays in our salvation history be grounded in the scriptures. Mary is often understood as the second eve who crushes the serpent (the symbol of the evil one). There are some icons and statues in which the Blessed Virgin Mary is portrayed stepping on the serpent’s head. Mary bears a redeemer who, in his great power over evil, crushes the root cause of evil in the world. In different parts of the New Testament, Mary clearly comes out as an intercessor. The first miracle at Cane in Galilee speaks volumes. “They have no wine” (John 2:3). “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:1). This proves an African saying that, “Behind every successful king is a powerful queen mother”.[6] The one who is actually honoured most is the King himself but the mother of the king surely enjoying the privilege of bearing that king.

By having a deep reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit plays crucial role in the conception of Jesus. It would therefore be an underestimation if the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose womb became the temple of the Holy Spirit to be considered just a mother. Fr. Adrian satisfactorily clarifies this mystery saying, “Christians who live and propagate a “life in the Spirit” without continuously paying loving attention to that all-important hidden link between the Spirit and Mary deprive themselves of a very precious building stone for spiritual growth and maturity”. [7] Even more significant to emphasize is the fact the Blessed Virgin Mary’s became the tabernacle (the Holy of Holies) in which the Son of God dwelt for nine months.

A close look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, portrays a woman who never drew people’s attention to herself, but rather to her Son. Grinion points out if the devotion of Our Lady distracted us from our Lord, we should have to reject it as an illusion of the devil. But this, he says, is far from being the case. This devotion is necessary simply and solely because it is a way of reaching Jesus perfectly, loving him tenderly and serving him faithfully.[8] Mary knew very well her Son was destined to be the Saviour of the world and she prepared to bear all the sorrows throughout Jesus passion and cross. No wonder she is known as “the Mother of Sorrows.” In other words, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role in our salvation is significant as we receive it with proper understanding.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the veneration and devotion is a rich spiritual practice in itself. The Blessed Virgin Mary is, undoubtedly, a significant figure in our history of salvation. We cannot afford to underestimate it, however it should be without exaggeration of the vital role she continues to play in our journey of salvation. There are, noticeably, challenges faced in the practice of this devotion, either from the devotee himself/herself or from the outsiders (non-Catholics). Nonetheless, these problems can be solved if the devotees’ understanding of Mary’s role is sufficiently informed by the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church or from other reliable sources.

by Rev. Fr. Obaso Philip Odhiambo,

Administrator, Christ the King church, Bintangor.

[1] The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary, pp 116-117

[2] The documents of Vatican II, LG no. 53

[3] Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Theology Brewed in African Pot, p 91

[4] Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Theology Brewed in African Pot, p 93.

[5]  Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Theology Brewed in African Pot, p 94.

[6] Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Theology Brewed in African Pot, p 98.

[7] Fr. Adrian B.M. van der Hulst, “Present to Mary: St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort’s Consecration to Mary”, p 22.     

[8] Fr. Adrian B.M. van der Hulst, “Present to Mary: St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort’s Consecration to Mary”, p 14.

Outsiders View of Mary

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