Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Behold Your Mother" by Mark Shea -- Third Time's the Charm

This excerpt isn't from this book (on the left, above). Though I confess I'm rather partial to it, having written it myself -- from the perspective of a convert and adoptive mother.

It's not from this one (on the right, below), either. Although it, too, is a lovely book -- written from one of "Mary's sons," a good and holy priest.

No, the following excerpt is from Mark Shea's lovely book (actually, I understand that it is to be a triology) by the same title, to be published by Catholic Answers in a few months. I'm looking forward to seeing it in print ... in the meantime, here is a little snippet to pique your interest (cover image was not available ... sorry)!

There are about a jillion forms of prayer in the Catholic tradition. In the massive fields of prayer that stretch out like a grand prairie of wildflowers, there's simply no end to the ways in which Catholics approach God through Jesus Christ. Here, more than anywhere else, we experience the Church's curiously decentralized approach to faith. This can surprise us, because many people have the notion that a hierarchical Church insists on a top-down Command Economy where bishops issue the prayers and the faithful salute smartly and recite them. But in reality, the Church has always acted with the basic assumption that devotions will spring up among the faithful like orchards and gardens spring up in April.

To be sure, the devotional life needs tending and pruning here and there so people don't starting praying in loopy ways. But the basic trust of the Church is that the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, will provide the sunlight, rain, and inspiration that brings prayer from the hearts of the faithful.

Consequently, the prayer life of the Church is a riot of color and variety. Aside from liturgical prayers such as the Mass and the Divine Office (a series of prayers prayed throughout the day, particularly in monastic or religious orders, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours), there are gazillions of other private devotions, both popular and obscure. There are litanies, icons, prose, poems, and beloved music. Private prayer is done in all sorts of postures: laying, sitting, standing, kneeling, walking, even dancing (as St. Teresa of Avila used to do, employing castanets in her impromptu outbursts of meditative prayer). There is prayer to the Blessed Trinity, prayer to each Person of the Trinity, prayer to saints, prayer using Scripture, prayer to the Eucharist, prayer alone, prayer in groups, prayer employing all the senses, prayer using physical objects, prayer that avoids distraction by physical objects, prayer that chatters, prayer that's silent, prayer done while working, prayer for valor in battle, prayer for courage to die rather than shed blood, prayer sung, prayer spoken, prayer enacted, prayers of love, rage, confusion, hope, fear, contentment, boredom, and even small talk.

This colossal variety doesn't diminish one iota when the subject is Marian prayer. Mary is prayed to and addressed under a zillion titles. She is Mother Mary, Blessed Mother, Holy Mary, the Virgin. She is Mother of the Church, Seat of Wisdom, Daughter of Zion. She is Bride of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mother of Mercy and Our Lady of Sorrows (just to name a very few of her titles).

Some people, uncomfortable with this massive creativity in finding new ways to praise Mary, have the notion they can get away from intense Marian piety in the Eastern Churches. That's because Eastern liturgy is experienced by few in the West
while Western Catholic private devotions are so visible in secular life what with all the posters, medals, statues, holy cards, and icons all over homes and offices. So most Americans perceive Western Catholics to have the heavy-duty devotion to Mary and imagine the Eastern Churches haven't "gone overboard" about her as Westerners supposedly have.

In reality, Eastern Christianity is, if anything, even more intensely Marian than the West. It's just that, in the Eastern Churches, most Marian devotion is found in the liturgy (where you must participate) rather than in private devotions (where you may participate). Indeed, to bind Marian devotion to the liturgy, as the East has, is to place her, in the profoundest way, at the heart of the Faith.

Therefore, if someone chooses to, say, worship in a Byzantine Catholic church in order to get away from things such as the Litany of Loreto or May Crownings, they will soon realize they've arrived at the expression of Christianity that perfected the Akathist Hymn, a long hymn of praise to the Blessed Virgin—offered while standing—which includes, among many other titles of praise, such acclamations for the Virgin as:

Container of the Uncontainable God!
Door of Solemn Mystery!
Report Doubtful to Unbelievers!
Undoubted Boast of the Faithful!
All-Holy Chariot of Him Who Sitteth upon the Cherubim!
All-Glorious Temple of Him Who is above the Seraphim!
Thou Who hast United Opposites!
Thou Who hast Joined Virginity and Motherhood!
Thou Through Whom Transgression Hath Been Absolved!
Thou Through Whom Paradise Is Opened!
Key to the Kingdom of Christ!
Hope of Eternal Good Things!
O Bride Unwedded!

In short, there's no end to the variety of praise for Mary in the Catholic Faith—eastern or western.

Cataloguing and discussing every facet of this colossal diversity could trail on for thousands of pages. We don't want to do this. Therefore, the best way to approach Marian prayer is to go where the vast majority of Catholics turn, to the 800 Pound Gorilla and All-Time Champion form of Marian devotion: the Rosary. For in its mysteries there are lots of opportunities to take side jaunts into some of the other forms of devotion out there as well. ...

Care to read more? Well, why not order the book?