The Marian heart of the Church
"How great should be our confidence in this Queen, knowing how powerful she is with God, and at the same time how rich and full of mercy; so much so that there is no one on earth who does not share in the mercies and favours of Mary!"
S. ALPHONSUS OF LIGUORI IN HIS COMMENTARY ON THE SALVE REGINA, CONTAINED WITHIN HIS WORK THE GLORIES OF MARY (18th C.)
Catholics tend to be very affectionate towards Mary, which can cause some discomfort or even disgust to other Christians. This is probably because we have been taught by God and the Church to love her as our Mother, given to us as such by Christ her Son at the moment of his death (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 963-975). The place of Mary in the history of the salvation of mankind is an enigma, for it is a supreme example of the way that God uses the weak to confound the strong (cf. 1 Corinthians 1: 27), of here choosing the prettiest of the flowers in his garden to transform it into a mighty wind. Mary, in the Catholic tradition, is identified as Daughter of Sion and of the royal house of David as well as a Jewish woman particularly blessed by God for her particular mission, being in this way 'full of grace' (Luke 1: 28), free from all stain of sin. This creation of Mary as without sin is what Catholics call the Immaculate Conception.
This article is directed at Mary as the prototype of the faithful Church. It was she who first bore Christ, who remained in the train of the disciples of Christ during his ministry and who stood alone with the Apostle S. John at the foot of the Cross, at the centre of history, a pillar of faith and charity when almost everybody else and certainly every Apostle but John had fled. She therefore appears first as a powerful example and a model of the Christian life, maintaining her purity of life until the end of her earthly existence. But Mary has also involved herself actively in the millennia-long history of the Church, drawing people to conversion and working signs to confirm others in their faith.
One of the accusations levelled at Catholics by some other Christians is that of the so-called 'worship' of Mary. The Catholic Church during her long history has built up the cult of several Saints, great men and women, who exemplified the Christian life and were deemed authoritatively to be models for every other Christian. Of these Saints, Mary naturally holds the greatest honour. However, like the other Saints, she is united to Christ her Son and points towards him. At the same time, she actively works with the distribution of the graces of God among men and women, both Christian and not, being in this way a mother 'in the order of grace' (CCC, 968).
Devotion to the Mother of God is various, but it is usually aimed at acquiring her assistance and guidance in the spiritual life, in asking her prayers for sinners and in asking her clemency for the banished children of Eve in their valley of tears. Chief among the devotions to Mary, and greatly hated by the enemies of human souls, is the Holy Rosary, which is an accompanying of Mary through the most important events of the life of her Son. Other popular devotions include the litany of Loreto, which gives Mary several biblically-oriented titles, and the Angelus, which hails her part in the central event of the Salvation of Man - the conception of the Son of God within her womb.
The end of it all is the imitation of Christ, reached through an imitation of Mary. May she always assist us, now and at the hour of our death.