Fostering devotion to Mary
Jesus’ final gift from the cross to all believers was the gift of his mother, Mary. From its very beginning, the Church has honored Our Lady, and Christians for two millennia have been devoted to her as a child is devoted to his mother. Devotion to Our Lady has flourished, testifying to Mary’s goodness as a mother. Volumes have been written, expounding on the truth of who she is. Beautiful cathedrals have been built in her honor.
True devotion to Our Lady has withstood the test of time. It is firmly ensconced in the tradition of the Church and is recommended to all believers. Why? Because devotion to Mary points us to and increases our devotion to Jesus, who is Truth, Goodness, and supremely Beautiful.
Five characteristics of true devotion
What are the characteristics of a true devotion to Mary? According to St. Louis de Montfort, the five characteristics of true devotion to Mary are interior, tender, holy, constant, and
“True devotion to Our Lady is interior; that is, it comes from the mind and the heart.” (TD, 106)
True devotion to Our Lady is interior because it stems from the conviction of our intellect. We know the truth about Mary, that she is blessed by God above all other creatures. She is so special that God chose her to be his mother. Mary is so good that we
cannot help but love her with our whole heart, to love her as God loves her! Hail, Full of Grace!
“That is, full of confidence in her, like a child’s confidence in his loving mother.” (TD, 107)
St. Louis de Montfort explains that the person with true devotion to Our Lady exhibits a tender confidence that compels him to run to Our Lady in all circumstances, as a child will run to his mother. He is confident that Mary will assist him at all times in every way, as long as it is for the good of his soul. Mary will strengthen him in his temptations, enlighten him in his doubt, console him in his sorrow, and lift him when he falls.
“That is to say, it leads the soul to avoid sin and to imitate the virtues of the Blessed Virgin.” (TD, 108)
The most basic principle of the moral life is to do good and avoid evil. In other words, to avoid sin and live a life of virtue. Mary did this perfectly, and she can help us to do the same. Devotion to Our Lady helps us to be holy and grow in virtue.
“It confirms the soul in good and does not let it easily abandon its spiritual exercises.” (TD, 109)
One of my favorite quotes is: “The one constant in life is change.” Life is always changing and moving along. No two days are alike. One day, work, school, or home life might be chugging along smoothly with no major difficulties. The next day, it may be full of challenges. A job might be lost. Sickness could befall a loved one. The car may break down. Amidst all of life’s change, devotion to Our Lady helps us to remain constant in the most important thing — our prayer life and spiritual exercises — such as saying the rosary or going to Mass every Sunday.
“It inspires the soul not to seek itself but only God, and God in His holy Mother.” (TD, 110)
God loves us, and Mary loves us too! As any good father and mother give good things to a child, so our Heavenly Father and Mother give us good gifts, too. It is easy to become enamored with God or Our Lady because of the good feelings that come from serving them or the blessings they give us. But a soul that is truly devoted to Our Lady loves her not because of the good she bestows, but simply because she is good, and she perfectly reflects the goodness of God.
Devotion to Mary leads to devotion to Jesus
“All our perfection consists in being conformed, united, and consecrated to Jesus Christ; and therefore, the most perfect of all devotions is, without any doubt, that which most perfectly conforms, unites, and consecrates us to Jesus Christ.” (TD, 120)
Jesus is the object of all our devotion, and devotion to Mary helps perfectly to increase that devotion to Jesus. The moon shines brightly at night, but that light does not emanate from the moon itself. The nighttime moonlight is a reflection of the sun. So it is with Mary! Mary’s goodness magnifies the goodness of the Lord. Mary’s truth is the truth of Jesus. Mary’s beauty reflects the beauty of God.
When we are devoted to Mary, we are devoted to Jesus. The more we conform our hearts to Mary, the more our hearts are conformed to Jesus. St. Ambrose says it best: “Let the soul of Mary be in each of us to magnify the Lord, and the spirit of Mary be in each of us to rejoice in God.”
Throughout the centuries, Our Lady has become known throughout the world under many different titles. Some of her titles point to her role in salvation history. Others titles have come from places she has appeared. Let’s look at three titles that specifically foster devotion to Jesus as true, good, and beautiful.
Titles of Mary: Immaculate Conception, Seat of Wisdom, Mystical Rose
In 1854 Blessed Pius IX infallibly declared and defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:
The Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin. (Ineffabilis Deus; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 491)
St. Maximilian Kolbe pondered this doctrine and mystery for years, asking Our Lady, “Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?” Through special divine inspiration, the answer given to St. Maximilian Kolbe was this: The Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception, the immaculately conceived Love of God. As a wife takes the name of her husband, Mary as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, takes on the name of her Divine Spouse. And so Mary is the created Immaculate Conception. This title points to the reality of Mary’s goodness, which
in turn points to the goodness of God.
SEAT OF WISDOM
The title of Mary as the Seat of Wisdom is an ancient and venerable title. Traditionally the wisdom of God is attributed to God the Son, Jesus, since he says of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, emphasis added). Who but Jesus sits on the lap of Mary? There is a beautiful mosaic in the Hagia Sophia of Jesus sitting on the throne of Wisdom, the lap of Mary the Sedes Sapientia, who in turn is pointing back to her Son, the truth.
What flower is considered the most beautiful? What flower is the symbol of love? What flower has a beautiful and distinct fragrance? The rose! In her reflection on Mary as the Mystical Rose, St. Brigid says, “The Virgin may suitably be called a blooming rose.
Just as the gentle rose is placed among thorns, so this gentle Virgin was surrounded by sorrow.” Mary’s title as the Mystical Rose reminds us of her sorrow at the foot of the cross. Mary’s gaze was fixed on her Son. She exhorts us, too, to fix our gaze on Jesus on the cross. His beautiful body was turned red by his blood. The cross is the greatest symbol of love, and his sacrifice gives off the beautiful odor of salvation (see 2 Corinthians 2:16).
Devotion to Mary in the classroom
Marian devotion is ancient and beautiful, but how does one foster it in the classroom? How do you inspire your students with a love for the Immaculata? I would suggest three activities to help foster Marian devotion among your students.
TEACH YOUR STUDENTS ABOUT THE ROSARY
The best lessons are learned by doing, so teach the rosary by praying the rosary. At the end of class, many of my catechists pray one decade of the rosary before everyone is dismissed. When teaching a class myself, I like to assign each student with one of the prayers of the decade. Another suggestion is to have your students make their own rosaries. Perhaps they could even make one of those knotted cord rosaries.
TEACH ABOUT THE MARIAN FEAST DAYS
Hardly a week goes by, it seems, that there isn’t a Marian feast day. They are plentiful throughout the entire year! Use those feast days as launching pads for lessons and crafts. On December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, you could pass out Miraculous Medals to your students. December 12th is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Perhaps your students could paint their own tilma. Each feast day is an opportunity for creative crafts or entertaining play.
SING SONGS ABOUT MARY
There are many hymns and little songs about Our Lady, and students love to sing. “Immaculate Mary” is a very popular Marian hymn that can easily be taught. During Vacation Bible School (VBS) at my parish, we taught the campers a modified and shortened version of “Ave Maria” in Latin. By the end of VBS week, we were singing the song in rounds. I had many reports from parents saying that their children were even singing “Ave Maria” at home!
Mary is the immaculate spouse of God, where there is no trace of sin. She is the Throne of Wisdom and the beautiful Holy of Holies. Devotion to Our Lady is the easiest and surest way to holiness and devotion to Our Blessed Lord. The school of Mary is where saints are made.
James Blankenship has served as the director of religious education in different parishes in the Arlington Diocese in Virginia for over seven years. He and his wife are raising two children.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, April/May 2019
PHOTO: ALFGAR/ISTOCK, LISA JULIA PHOTOGRAPHY/BAYARD