Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the May 19, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
After a recent vigil service for a deceased parishioner I was hit once again with the question a good number of people still carry about in their quiver of questions asked of priests – sometimes at awkward and unsuspecting moments: “Why do Catholics worship Mary?”
There’s something about Roman collars which must evoke this kind of inquiry! I could tell from the tone of my questioner’s voice that she was both puzzled and, at the same time, definite. Puzzled because she wanted to cut me some slack to explain. Definite because of her rightful conviction that God alone shall be adored.
In the mind of my inquirer, Catholics have placed Mary high on an ivory pedestal. After all, statues of her likeness find special places of honor in nearly every Catholic home and church sanctuary. The “Hail Mary” is one of the first prayers we learn as children. The rosary is a popular and frequent form of devotional prayer. And many an aching heart has poured out its cares and concerns to our Blessed Mother’s attentive ear.
A reactionary might complain that devotion to Mary has been tossed out the proverbial church window with all the other so-called “changes” resulting from the Second Vatican Council. Such is hardly the case. An honest look at the 16 documents of the Council reveals a special attention paid to Mary as the Mother of our Savior. In fact, the Council’s document on the nature of the Church, Lumen Gentium, concludes with a clear pastoral statement on her unique role in salvation history. While correcting abuses in Catholic devotion to Mary – many of which give rise to questions about Mary-worship – the Church lovingly encourages a wholesome and explicit devotion to Our Lady. We Catholics know that we do not worship Mary. Historically, however, our practices sometimes have tended to give evidence to the contrary.
Correcting devotional abuses or claiming more accurate theological perspective is not the same as ridding the church of Mary’s rightful place of honor. If anything, in sweeping aside some of the historical clutter, Mary is given a much sharper focus. When devotion places Mary so high on a pedestal that she becomes like unto a goddess, we miss the importance of her presence in human history. Jesus, her Son, was not born of a goddess, as some pagan religions have their “saviors” born. No: Jesus was born of a woman. Miriam – Mary – is the humble worker-woman from Nazareth. She knew the complexities of her daily life. She and her family scratched out a living by the sweat of human toil. She broke her fingernails and likely slumped into bed many a night, exhausted. Perhaps she, too, knew the depression that comes with loss and tragedy. It is doubtful that she watched or followed the travels of her son with a disinterested clairvoyance.
There was, and is, something very fully human and fully woman about Mary. Realizing that would help any one of us keep perspective on her role in salvation history, now and then. We cannot shake her from human history. She is part and parcel of the testimony of how God’s salvation has taken flesh in human history. An understanding and acceptance of salvation in Jesus has to recognize her special role. A wholesome Catholic devotion to Mary will be deeply respectful of her down-to-earth quality and her day-to-day openness to the ways of God. Her fiat – “Let it be done” – is more than a blazing meteor of grace; it is the manifestation of an open way of living which embraces God’s unfolding plan with a loving “yes.”
The wonder of Mary is found not on a pedestal, but on the streets of Nazareth, where her faithful response to God’s call was confessed one day at a time in the work of her hands and the love of her heart. Though it’s a different time and place, in a very real sense we walk the same streets she walked, we carry the same concerns in our hearts. In so doing we recognize that Mary is not a pedestal lady, but a woman wonderfully filled with the grace of God and truly blessed among women. As one with us in the human adventure, we can identify with her. Having been where we continue yet to be, we can seek her intercession and assistance for our own walk of faithfulness.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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