Devotion to the saints, those holy men and women who have gone before us on earth and are now with God in heaven, has been a vital part of Catholic culture and practice from the earliest centuries of the Church. In particular, we venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary. We honor her as the mother of God, the mother of the Church and our mother, as well.
Depictions of the Blessed Virgin as an aid to prayer have appeared on frescos in the catacombs of Rome, on icons and on statues and paintings in churches throughout the world and over the centuries. Many of our most beautiful Catholic hymns are about Mary, reflecting the affection Christian people have always had for her. She is not a remote figure, but close to us as our model of faith, intercessor and Blessed Mother. In all of these roles, she leads us to Christ.
Mary is often called the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus. She believed in the message of an angel even though she did not know how it could be. In response to her kinswoman Elizabeth’s cry of “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” at the Visitation, she responds with the beautiful prayer, the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk. 1:46-47). Mary is a model of faith, and we draw on her example for courage and strength as she accompanies us during life’s challenging times and big transitions.
In the Gospel according to John, we see Mary as intercessor when she subtly advocates for the bridal party at the wedding feast of Cana. She says just two things: “They have no wine” (Jn. 2:3) and “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5). Despite protesting that His hour has not yet come, Jesus turns water into wine at the behest of His mother. Following the ancient practices of the Church, Catholics often ask Mary to go toGod on our behalf. That is what we do when we say such treasured Marian prayers as the “Hail Mary,” the “Hail! Holy Queen” and the “Memorare.”
Mary is the ideal intermediary because she is close to the Lord and close to us, a mother to both. She became the mother of God Incarnate when she told the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “May it be done unto me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). She became the mother of the Church and its members when Jesus said to her at the foot of the cross, “Woman, behold your son” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother” (Jn. 19:26-27). Later, she was with the other disciples in the Upper Room (Acts 1:13) as a part of the early Church community in Jerusalem.
There are many ways in which the faithful can devote themselves to Mary, including the rosary, the Angelus, Mary gardens, Marian pilgrimages and May crownings. And since her assumption into heaven body and soul, the Church has found many apparitions of Mary worthy of belief, generating special devotions and feast days to Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe and others.
In my own life and in my ministry as priest and bishop, I have always felt close to the Blessed Virgin and valued Marian devotions as a means to follow her to Christ. Last June 19, on the bicentennial of the founding of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, I was pleased to re-consecrate our local Church to Jesus through Mary culminating a 33-day pilgrimage during which a blessed statue of Our Lady of Fatima was carried to 36 parishes across the archdiocese. This March 25, I again called upon Mary, asking her to watch over our archdiocese. We can be sure of Mary’s maternal care as we strive to be faithful disciples and joyful witnesses.
Holy Mary, Mother of God and our mother, pray for us!