“Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary leads us into the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist”

by Fr. Benjamin Reese, S.T.D., Cand.

Introduction

             The theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been an integral part of the Catholic faith—from the Protogospel of Genesis to the most recent Papal Encyclical. Mary, the New Eve has been seen as the complement to Christ, the New Adam[1].  Of course, the distinctive feature of the Catholic religion is the Incarnation—God becoming man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Here we see how Mary’s “yes” opened the way for the Son of God’s descent to earth and his taking of her human flesh.  As we meditate on the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, the parallels between it and the Incarnation readily come to mind since it is Jesus himself who becomes present with the very flesh that he once received from his Mother, Mary. 

             In a similar way, we learn to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in union with Christ’s perfect offering at Calvary where Mary herself co-offered her Son for the salvation of the world.  Indeed, she was not a priest, but through Him she offered her own flesh and blood and the Divine victim back to the Father.  Thus, she remains a kind of exemplar for us as we enter into the sacrifice of the Mass.  Finally, it was Mary, according to tradition, who first greeted her Risen Son, and adored her God on Easter Sunday morning.  Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, then, correctly understood, helps us to enter most completely into the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist and hence enhances our actual participation in the Divine Liturgy itself. 

 The Liturgy of the Word and the Incarnation

             Mary becomes a model for our actual participation in the Liturgy of the Word as a hearer of the Word, a hearer that always obeyed the Word of God and meditated on that mystery in her Immaculate Heart.  In the Liturgy of the Word, we review the history of salvation and realize how few members of the human race actually took God’s word to heart and gave him a whole hearted “Yes”.  The history of the chosen people really begins with Abraham’s submission to God in an heroic faith.  But even Abraham’s faith, a faith that made him our father in faith, was, at times, a weak and vacillating one.  The subsequent history of the Chosen people is indeed a history of much unfaithfulness, but God would preserve a holy remnant, and this holy remnant would give birth to a daughter of Zion through God’s intervention in the Immaculate Conception.  Mary’s faith, then, like Abraham’s, shines out as a model for us.  Pope Paul VI comments in his famous Encyclical, Marialis Cultus.

            Mary is the attentive Virgin, who receives the word of God with faith, that faith which in her case was the gateway and path to the divine motherhood, for, as St. Augustine realized, “Blessed Mary by believing conceived Him (Jesus) whom believing she brought forth”  In fact, when she received from the angel the answer to her doubt (cf. Lk a:34-37), “full of faith and conceiving Christ in her mind      before conceiving Him in her Womb, she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1:38).  It was faith that was for her cause of blessedness and certainty in the fulfillment of the promise: “Blessed is    she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk    1:45). .  .  The Church also acts in this way, especially in the liturgy, when with faith she listens, accepts, proclaims and venerates the Word of God, distributes it to the faithful as the bread of life, and in the light of that word examines the signs of the times and interprets and lives the events of history.[2]

             Thus, Mary becomes a model of actual or interior participation in the Liturgy itself.  Certainly, this does not mean that we bring Marian devotions into the Liturgy, but Marian devotions and, especially the practice of True Devotion will help us enter into the spirit of the Liturgy.  Mary, the woman of faith and the contemplative virgin can teach us how to listen to the Word of God.  St. Louis de Montfort writes,

             Be persuaded, then, that the more you look at Mary in your prayers, contemplations, actions, and sufferings, if not with a distinct and definite view, at least with a general and imperceptible one, the more perfectly will you find Jesus Christ, who is always with Mary, great, powerful, active, and incomprehensible – more than in Heaven or in any other creature.  Thus, so far from the Divine Mary, all absorbed in God, being an obstacle to the perfect attaining of union with God, there has never been up to this time, and there never will be, any creature who will aid us more efficaciously in this great work; either by the graces that she will communicate to us for this purpose—for as a saint has said, “No one can be filled with the thought of  God except by her”[3]

Consequently, the place for Marian devotion is precisely in the time before Mass[4], so that we can prepare our minds and hearts to receive the Word of God as she did.  If we approach the Liturgy of the Word in union with her heart will be “filled with the thought of God”.

            However, true devotion to the Blessed Virgin not only helps us to prepare for the Liturgy of the Word, and to contemplate that Word during Mass: her intercession also helps us to assent to the Word of God which is directed to us–  to say “Yes” to God  within the context of that Mass. Indeed, the Liturgy of the Word is proclaimed by the celebrant within the liturgical assembly so that they can give assent to the content of the Church’s teaching and preaching.  Just as the people of the nation of Israel consented to the content of the book of the covenant in Exodus 24 before being sprinkled with the Blood of the Covenant, so the people of the new Israel receive the Word of God as preached before drinking of the Blood of the Word made flesh in the New Covenant.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “By the saving word of God faith . . . is nourished in the hearts of believers.  By faith then the congregation of the faithful begins and grows. The proclamation does not stop with a teaching; it elicits the response of faith as consent and commitment, directed at the covenant between God and his people.”[5] Each member of the assembly should listen and then respond to the Word of God as Mary did so that Christ can become Incarnate in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out during the Eucharistic sacrifice.

            All of this becomes clear as we recite the Creed in which we recall the Incarnation of God the Son. Here, all used to genuflect every Sunday (many still do in Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite) at those words, “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.”  So many wonderful musical compositions of the Creed have been written and all of them fall into an awesome and tender hush at this moment.  We are finishing the Liturgy of the Word and our hearts are prepared to receive the Word made Flesh who will come very soon in the unbloody sacrifice of the altar so as to be received Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in Holy Communion by the assembly.   In this way, we will become like Mary whose “Yes’ in the Incarnation allowed the Word of God to take flesh from her and become man.

            Just before we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we offer the Prayer of the Faithful, and once again the Blessed Virgin Mary is discreetly present in the Liturgy as our intercessor before the Father in heaven. I find it theologically interesting to understand the Prayer of the Faithful as a transition between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Indeed, the Catholic Catechism describes it in the section on the Liturgy of the Word, “After the homily, which is an exhortation to accept this Word as what it truly is, the Word of God, and to put it into practice, come the intercessions for all men, according to the Apostle’s words: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in high position”[6]

            The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystosom contains an ectenia, a prayer of intercession which is contained in the Eucharistic prayer itself.  These intercessions fittingly conclude with a Marian prayer which is an integral part of the Liturgy itself,  “Commemorating our most, holy, pure, blessed, and glorified Lady, Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and one another our whole life to Christ, our God.” [7]  It is also interesting to note here the Irish and English Latin Rite custom, approved by their Bishops, of concluding the prayers of the faithful with a Hail Mary “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist and Mary’s role at Calvary.

            If we first imitate Mary in her contemplative stance in the Liturgy of the Word, we can then imitate her self offering and so join her personal offering of the Divine Victim in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, especially at the moment of the representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary in the Sacrifice of the Mass.  Pope John Paul II wrote of Mary’s unfathomable sufferings at Calvary in Redemptoris Mater, “The Council says that this happened ‘not without a divine plan”: by “suffering deeply with her only begotten Son and joining herself with her maternal spirit to his sacrifice, lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim to whom she had given birth,” in this way Mary “faithfully preserved her union with her Son even to the Cross”[8]

             Fr. Dwight Campbell elucidates on Pope John Paul’s Marian/ Eucharistic theology in an article in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  He sees Pope John Paul’s Marian spirituality of the Cross as a key to his understanding of true participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist – and especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

            The Blessed Virgin Mary was present on Calvary; she is present at each Mass.  At Mass we must invite Mary to be present with us, and strive to imitate her in uniting ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice made present on the altar.  We must learn from her, at her “school,” by studying her interior dispositions, especially those she exhibited at the foot of the Cross: her heroic faith and her spirit of self-oblation in accepting the Father’s will that her Son suffer a horrible death to merit our salvation.[9]

             Yet, this imitation of Mary is not simply exemplary in a historical sense or merely spiritual in as much as the Blessed Virgin Mary is actually interceding for us from heaven. It is indeed “real” because Mary’s sorrowful and Immaculate Heart is “truly” present in the Sacrifice of the Mass itself.  Fr. Campbell cites this remarkable quote from Pope John Paul II,

In this “memorial” of Calvary [i.e., the Mass] all that Christ accomplished by his Passion and his Death is present.  Consequently, all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present.  To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us: “Behold, your Son!” To each of us he also says: “Behold your Mother!”  9cf. Jn. 19.26-27).[10]

             Her spiritual Motherhood is consequently real – not only in a generic, heavenly way, but because she is precisely there at each and every Sacrifice of the Mass, showing us how to sacrifice the Divine victim and our lives with her at the Foot of the Cross.  Her spiritual Motherhood makes our sacrifice more bearable since she is a sign and a real channel of God’s intimate love for us.   When the sacrifice or the suffering can seem beyond our strength- because it is beyond our strength—we need only to ask her to help.  She will intercede so that we can complete our offering , joining it to hers at Calvary.

            This act of self offering with her in the Mass is a perfection of the True Devotion of St. Louis de Montfort, “to begin, to continue to finish all our actions by her, in her, with her, and for her, in order that we may do them by Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ, our Last End.”[11]  Such is also the very soul of actual participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where we offer everything “through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit.” Many Catholics may not yet be spiritually mature enough to participate interiorly in the Liturgy in a full, conscious, and actual manner, but all can and will suffer and in this Our Sorrowful Mother can help them to accept their Crosses with patience and a deep supernatural joy.  We need her prayers then to remain standing at the Foot of the Cross and not to give into fear, pain, or discouragement in times of trial, but rather to accept all from the hands of a loving Father.   We should above all pray to Our Lady of Sorrows in all our troubles.  We should ask her, by the ocean of sorrow she felt during the Passion of Our Lord, to help us.   God gave her all the immense graces necessary to make her the perfect Mother of God, but he also gave her all the graces, the tenderness, the love necessary to be our most perfect and loving Mother.  No mother on earth ever loved a child as Our Blessed Lady loves us.  Therefore, in all our troubles and sorrows, let us go to Our Blessed Lady with unbounded confidence.[12]

             In order to remain strong in faith and to truly offer our minor sorrows with the sacrifice of the Mass,  it is salutary to meditate profoundly on the immense depth of her sorrow.  The English Oratorian,  Fr. Frederick Faber wrote, “The first thing, then, which strikes us about our Lady’s dolours is their immensity… It is to her sorrows that the Church applies those words of Jeremias, O all ye that by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.”[13]  Indeed it is the common teaching of the Saints that Mary suffered more than all the Martyrs at the foot of the Cross[14], entering into the abyss of her Son’s abandonment as he cried out to the Father, “My God, My God, Why have you abandoned Me?”  This dark night of the soul in which her heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow is the basis of her spiritual motherhood and her tender compassion for us sinners.  She entered into this state of  abandonment which was due to us as a punishment for our sins.  Yet she herself was totally innocent, having had no need to suffer for her sins.  In this act of love for God and for us she became our Mother in the order of grace, a New Eve, giving spiritual birth to us in the agony of Calvary.  St. Alphonsus de Liguori comments on these immense sorrows,

             Indeed, the death of Jesus was more than enough to save the world, and infinity of worlds; but this good Mother, for the love she bore us, wished also to help the cause of our salvation with the merits of her sufferings, which she offered for us on Calvary. Therefore, Blessed(now Saint) Albert the Great says, “that as we are under great obligations to Jesus for his Passion, endured for our love, so also are we under great obligation to Mary for the martyrdom which she voluntarily suffered for our salvation in the death of her Son:”. . .  And indeed, we may say that Mary’s only relief in the midst of her great sorrow in the Passion of her Son, was to see the lost world redeemed by his death.[15]

              This was one of the greatest gifts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Cross—the gift of the Immaculate Heart of Mary [16] who would remain present in the Church and even at the sacrifice of the Mass as a consolation and co-offerer with us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When we turn in devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whether within Mass or outside of  it, she will always bring us into a mystical union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a simple lesson, but one not easily learned by self absorbed modern man, often including us priests and religious.  Yet the little children of Fatima were able to live this message of offering all their sacrifices and sufferings for the conversion of sinners through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, inseparably united to his Sacred Heart.

            The Second Vatican Council summarizes Mary’s role in the Church thusly and this helps us to understand her role for us in the Liturgy,

The Motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the Cross, until the eternal fulfillment of the elect.  Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. . . . Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything form nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.[17]

 Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Communion

            Mary is also the greatest teacher with regards to devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and hence the most fruitful way of making our Holy Communions.  St. Louis de Montfort teaches us some methods of preparing for and devoutly receiving the Most Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion.  He also instructs us how to make a proper thanksgiving, something that is often neglected today.  According to this Saint and Marian doctor, the result of such Holy Communions, made with her, will be an increase of the Divine Life of the Holy Trinity within us and a decrease of our selfishness and sin:

My Jesus, You must increase in my soul, and I must decrease (Jn. 3:30); Mary, you must increase within me, and I must be still less than I have been. “O Jesus and Mary, increase in me, and multiply yourselves in others also.” ((cf. Gen. 1:22 ff). There are infinity of other thoughts which the Holy Ghost furnishes, and will furnish you, if you are thoroughly interior, mortified and faithful to this grand and sublime devotion which I have been teaching you.  But always remember that the more you allow Mary to act your Communion, the more Jesus will be glorified.”[18]

 Hence, we see that Mary can truly help us to participate in the most profound way in her very relationship with her Divine Son in heaven and in the most Holy Eucharist.

The Blessed Virgin and the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass

             Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the best ways to prepare for Mass, and once again Mary can teach us how to better adorers of Christ in spirit and truth.  Contrary to the popularized teachings of some liturgists, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was not discouraged by Vatican II, and, to the contrary, it has been heartily encouraged by all the post-conciliar Popes, both in word and deed.  On the subject of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and authentic Liturgical participation, the Church has this to say,

            The same piety which moves the faithful to Eucharistic adoration attracts them to a deeper participation in the Paschal Mystery.  It makes them respond gratefully to the gifts of Christ who by his humanity continues to pour the divine life upon the members of his body.  Living with Christ the Lord, they achieve a close familiarity with him and in his presence pour out their hearts for themselves and for those dear to them;  they pray for peace and for the salvation of the world.  Offering their entire lives with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, they draw from this wondrous exchange an increase of faith, hope, and love.  Thus, they nourish the proper disposition to celebrate the memorial of the Lord as devoutly as possible and to receive frequently, the bread given to us by the Father.[19]

            Adoration itself was a very intimate experience for Mary as the Mother of God who carried the Word made Flesh in her womb.  According to tradition, she was the first to greet and adore the Risen Lord, and certainly she participated daily in the Mass of the Apostle John, with whom she lived.  Therefore she can be our teacher in the true spirit of adoration in the Spririt and in truth.

Conclusion

             If Mary is our Mother in the order of grace and the Mediatrix of all graces, then she is intimately involved in the sacramental economy of the Church in a mysterious and sublime way that goes far beyond the limited scope of this brief reflection: She is indeed “the Woman clothed with the Son”, totally immersed in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity to such a degree that only the mind of God can fathom her ineffable holiness. Yet we poor sinners can invoke her intercession so as to enter more perfectly into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and she is always ready to obtain special graces for her children and especially for her priest Sons who offer the Divine Sacrifice.  The Holy Catholic Church proclaims this in the Prayer of thanksgiving after Mass which she officially issues with the Roman Missal,

            Mary, Holy Virgin Mother       

            I have received your Son, Jesus Christ,

            With love you became His Mother,

            gave birth to Him, nursed Him,

            and helped Him grow to manhood.

            With love I return Him to you,  

            to hold once more,       

            to love with all your heart

            and to offer to the Holy Trinity 

            as our supreme act of worship. Amen.[20]


[1]   Paul Haffner, The Mystery of Mary. ( Chicago, Illinois :Liturgy Training Publications, 2004)

[2]   Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, An Apostolic Exhortation, in Mary in the ChurchA Selection of Teaching Documents. (Washington, DC: United States  Conference of  Catholic Bishops,  2003 )

[3]   St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, translated by Fr. Frederick Faber. (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 1985).

[4] An example of this is the prayer to the Virgin Mary provided for priests to be said in preparation for a devout and fruitful celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “Mother of mercy and love, blessed Virgin Mary, I am a poor and unworthy sinner, and I turn to you in confidence and love.  You stood by your Son and He hung dying on the Cross.  Stand also by me a poor sinner, and by all the priests who are offering Mass today here and throughout the entire Church.  Help us to offer a perfect and acceptable sacrifice in the sight of the holy and undivided Trinity, our Most High God. Amen.” Daily Roman Missal, ed. James Socias, (Chicago: Scepter Publishers, Midwest Theological Forum, 1993) 1963.

[5]  Catechism of the Catholic Church,  Libreria Editrice Vaticana  (Bloomingdale, Ohio: Apostolate for Family Consecration, 1994)  para 1102

[6]  Ibid, para. 1349

[7] The Divine Liturgy of  St. John Chrystosom, (New York, New York: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, 1966) p. 55

[8] Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, in Mary in the ChurchA Selection of Teaching Documents. (Washington, DC: United States  Conference of  Catholic Bishops,  2003 )

[9] Fr. Dwight Campbell, “A Marian Spirituality of the Eucharist,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, (January, 2006):  9.

[10]  ibid., 9

[11] St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, 70

[12]  “ A Devotional Prayer Book”,  Holy Wounds Apostolate, Wis. Rapids, WI, p. 18

[13] Fr. Frederick William Faber, The Foot of the Cross, the Sorrows of Mary( London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne LTD, 1857), 7.

[14] St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, “ Part III, The Dolors of Mary”, trans. Eugene Grimm,

( Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 1931), p.463-544.

[15] St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, 477

[16]  St. John Eudes, The Admirable Heart of Mary, (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1948)

 [17] Second Vatican Council, “Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican Council II:  The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1975), # 62.

[18]   St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, nos. 272-73.

[19]  Congregation for Divine Worship. “On Holy Communion and the Worship of  the Eucharistic Mystery Outside of Mass, quoted in “In the Presence of  Our Lord” by Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. and James Monti,(Huntington, Indiana:  Our Sunday Visitor, 1997),  270-271.

[20] Daily Roman Missal, Socias, 1979.

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