We are told that Advent is a special time of Marian spirituality and devotion. In the Marian encyclical, Marialis Cultus (1974) Pope Paul VI invited the faithful to live the spirit of Advent “by thinking about the inexpressible love with which the Virgin Mary awaited her Son.” He invited the faithful to take Mary as a model as they prepare to meet the Lord who is to come.
Perhaps the question we need to ask is how we are to understand Marian spirituality in the 21st century. As children we were given the image of Mary as a role-model for all girls and women. The model presented was one of virginal obedience, passivity and modesty. To modern feminist sensitivities these virtues sound very unappealing. However, if we reflect on Luke’s account of the Annunciation, Mary comes across as anything but passive. She had the courage to question the Angel before she gave her famous “yes.” She understood how difficult her situation as an unmarried mother was going to be in such a small closed community. Yet she trusted in God to work things out for her. She was a very strong young woman. Mary’s Magnificat is so strong in its advocacy of the poor that it is used in Liberation Theology today.
During Advent we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The readings for the feast (Gen. 3:9-15,20, The Fall), and (Luke 1:26-38, The Annunciation), according to Pope Francis, are “two crucial passages in the history of the relationship between humanity and God. They lead us to the origins of good and evil.”
The Feminist Theologian, Mary Daly, argues that the story of the Fall was a male-dominated attempt to make sense of the tragedy of the human condition. The great achievement of this myth was that it created sexual oppression and bestowed inferiority upon women universally. She states that “the original myth revealed the essential defect or ‘sin’ of patriarchal religion.” (Hannelie Wood, Revisiting Mary Daly: Her Views on the Trinity, Mariology and the Fall as Post-Christian Myths).
A very literal reading of the account of the Fall in the Book of Genesis led St. Paul to see Eve as the cause of all human sin and suffering. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:14). According to D.F. Sawyer, this short passage defined the role and status of women in the Church. (Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries, 1996).
As time went by the early Church Fathers began to see Mary as the new Eve. The oldest reflection on Mary in this role comes from St. Justin Martyr (120-165 A.D.), followed by St. Irenaeus (120-200), and Tertullian (160-240). In their writings Mary was elevated above all women. According to Elizabeth Johnson “Mary’s perfection as a woman functions paradoxically to disparage all other women.” (Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Community of Saints (2003).
Mary’s place in the Church generated heated debate at the Second Vatican Council. The result was Chapter 8 of the document Lumen Gentium, which emphasized the unique privilege and dignity of Mary as Mother of God, and also portrays her as model of Christian discipleship and prayer. “Mary was the perfect disciple, she listened to the word of God in her heart and in her body gave life to the world” (LG23).
Despite all the negative connotations of patriarchal Mariology the Virgin Mary has always remained central to popular devotion. It was the recitation of the Rosary that kept the faith alive in Ireland during the Penal days. In his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul 11 describes the Rosary as “an exquisitely contemplative prayer.” He describes Mary as: “the model of contemplation.” In fact, he says: “No one has ever devoted herself/himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. She lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: ‘She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (Lk. 2:19).” Pope Francis describes Mary as “the Gate of Heaven,” and each Rosary we pray is a step towards the goal of our life” (Aug 15, 2019).
Our Founder too had great devotion to Mary. It was to her that he attributed the inspiration for the founding of the Association. Mother Bonnat tells us: “He loved to go and pour out his soul at the feet of Our Lady of Loreto (in Issy). It was during one of these solitary visits whilst he was renewing fervently his act of devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph that the Blessed Virgin filled our beloved Father’s heart with ineffable light and consolation and revealed to him the plan of the Association which he was to found one day under her special protection.”
HFB Lay Member