There’s an axiom that says: Catholics tend to adore Mary while Protestants and Evangelicals tend to ignore Mary. Neither is ideal. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has in effect two histories within Christian tradition. We have the Mary of
Scripture and we have the Mary of Devotions, and both offer something special for our Christian journey.
The Mary of Devotions is the more well known, though mostly within Catholic circles. This is the Mary invoked in the rosary, the Mary of popular shrines, the Sorrowful Mother of our litanies, the Mother with the soft heart through whom we can get the ear of God, the Mary of purity and chastity, the Mother who understands human suffering, the Mother who can soften the hearts of murderers, and the Mother we can always turn to.
And this Mary is pre-eminently the Mother of the poor. Karl Rahner once pointed out that when you look at all the apparitions of Mary that have been officially approved by the Church you will notice that she has always appeared to a poor person – a child, an illiterate peasant, a group of children, someone without social standing. She’s never appeared to a theologian in his study, to a pope, or to a millionaire banker. She’s always been the person to whom the poor look. Marian devotion is a mysticism of the poor.
We see this, for example, very powerfully in the effect that Our Lady of Guadalupe has had on much of Latin America. In all of the Americas, most of the indigenous peoples are now Christian. However, in North America, while most of the indigenous peoples are Christian, Christianity itself is not seen as a native religion but rather as a religion brought to the native peoples from elsewhere. In Latin America, in every place where Our Lady of Guadalupe is popular, Christianity is seen to be a native religion.
But piety and devotions also run the risk of theological sloppiness and unhealthy sentimentality. That’s the case too with the Mary of Devotions. We’ve tended to elevate Mary to divine status (which is simply wrong) and we have far too often encrusted her in so much piety that she, the Mary of Devotions, cannot possibly be the same person who wrote the Magnificat.
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