Over the past few years, we have seen how Pope Francis demonstrates a strong Marian devotion. Anyone who has known former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio understands well that his Marian devotion, far from being a recent manifestation, is a long-established devotion and one that is much in line with his predecessors.
On his very first meeting with his brother cardinals in the Clementine Hall on March 15, Pope Francis stressed his relationship with Mary and the role he ascribes to Jesus’ mother. He said: “I entrust my ministry and your ministry to the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church. Under her maternal gaze may each one of you walk happy and docile on your path, listening to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening your unity, persevering in your common prayer and bearing witness to the true faith in the constant presence of the Lord.”
Forty days after his election, Pope Francis went to St. Mary Major to lead the recitation of the Rosary on the first Saturday of May, the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and to take official possession of the Basilica as he had done for the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. “Mary is the mother,” said the Pope during the recitation of the Rosary, “and a mother’s main concern is the health of her children … Our Lady guards our health … helps us grow, face life and be free.”
On the eve of his departure for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day 2013, Pope Francis visited once again the Basilica of St. Mary Major and entrusted World Youth Day 2013 to Mary’s care. During his unforgettable experience in Brazil he made a side-trip to the renown shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in central Brazil.
In his homily at the Aparecida Shrine on July 24, 2013 Pope Francis said: “When the Church looks for Jesus, she always knocks at his Mother’s door and asks: “Show us Jesus.” It is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship. That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.… Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” [Jn 2:5]. Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy.”
It is also interesting that Pope Francis has introduced the world to a little-known Marian devotion entitled Mary, Undoer of Knots. He has a very special devotion to Mary under this title that goes all the way back to the second century. In one autobiography of the Pope that I read it mentions that as a young Jesuit, Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was completing his graduate studies in Germany, he was captivated by a Bavarian painting of Holy Mary, Our Lady Undoer of Knots that he saw in a Church in Augsburg. Bergoglio obtained a copy of the painting and brought it back with him to Argentina where he helped spread the devotion among his people. While this devotion is relatively unknown in our part of the world, it is known and loved in Argentina.
Later as auxiliary bishop and then archbishop of Buenos Aires, he encouraged the veneration of Our Lady Undoer of Knots whose devotion originated from a painting executed by the German artist Johann Georg Schidtner around 1700 and located in St. Peter am Perlach Church in Augsburg, Germany. In the painting the Virgin is shown in the act of untying a knot on a long white ribbon while crushing the serpent, which stands for evil.
The theology of Mary untying knots goes back to the second century – less than one hundred years after the death of the Apostles. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wrote “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” The understanding of Mary’s universal mediation and her subordinate role to Christ in human salvation is beautifully summed up in this quote from St. Irenaeus.
During his pontificate, Pope Francis has invited the faithful to entrust to Mary “the journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace.” He goes on to state that her “example of humility and openness to God’s will helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation.”
In this same spirit as we mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have invited the faithful to consecrate their lives and of the entire country of Canada to Mary. We will celebrate this event in a Liturgy and with devotions at St. Mary’s Cathedral on July 1. I invite all within our Diocese to invoke Mary, the “Holy Mother of God,” to guide our country in the ways of faith in order to promote, peace, truth, justice and reconciliation.
Prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the Evil One himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
A month after becoming Bishop of Calgary, I travelled to Rome with the Western Bishops on our Ad Limina Apostolorum visit to the Vatican. It was my first such experience as a bishop. It is the historical practice of the local church in the person of the bishop coming from the limits of the universal Church, crossing the threshold of Rome to encounter the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
What is involved in preparing for such a visit? First, the local bishop prepares a report which summarizes the status of the diocese. It is called a Quinquennial Report and it contains statistics, commentary and analysis that describe 20 key areas of diocesan life. For example: the general status of the diocese, liturgy and sacraments, clergy, religious life, vocations, catechesis, Catholic education, finances, social justice, immigrants and refugees, etc. Bishop Henry oversaw the assembling of this 70-page report that was sent to the Vatican in the fall. It contains valuable information which has helped me to appreciate the size and scope of the Diocese in addition to seeing the challenges we face in planning for the future. Some of this statistical information is found on the next page.
The actual week-long visit began with meeting Pope Francis, then the heads of Congregations and Dicasteries throughout the week, the celebration of mass at the four major basilica churches in Rome: St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul’s. There was also the opportunity to get to know the other 24 western Bishops through informal discussions and the sharing of meals. The food and wine of Rome always seems to invite such conversations. In many ways one might describe it as a pilgrimage. A busy daily schedule, but one that is marked by some very profound moments of faith.
The visit began with an early morning mass on Monday in the crypt chapel at the tomb of St. Peter. We then met with the successor of Peter, Pope Francis for a two-and-a-half hour meeting in which he invited us to propose questions and topics for discussion related to our ministry as bishops in Western Canada. These included our relationship and ministry with indigenous peoples, refugees and immigration, young people and the influence of our secular culture, vocations, the need for the vital witness of religious life and how we might in our own dioceses strengthen our communion with him as the Bishop of Rome.
Pope Francis was open and honest at the outset by saying that he “didn’t have all the answers, but was willing to share from his own experience.” His pastoral style was one of affirmation, encouragement and persuasion. The wisdom and advice he imparted was wide ranging. He stated that, as bishops, we need to adopt and integrate a missionary mode of encounter with our people, to welcome immigration of refugees and their culture as a gift, to listen to young people and work for them, to be open to accompany our people, to be men of prayer, deep sustained prayer through the Holy Spirit, to be open to consultation and discernment, and finally not to be afraid to take risks. When greeting the Pope personally, I said that I had only been the bishop of Calgary Diocese for exactly four weeks. He looked somewhat surprised, and then pointed his finger at me and said — “Did I do this to you?”— at which point we both laughed. We all came away from this experience feeling that we were talking with a brother bishop.
Our meetings with the various Congregations offered the same collegial spirit of dialogue on many pastoral issues that we face in Canada around secularism, education, healthcare, immigration, physician assisted-suicide, media and communication. The universal dimension of the Church’s pastoral outreach and the common moral and social issues faced throughout the world were often shared in light of the Canadian issues that we raised for discussion.
The spiritual moments of this pilgrimage were also very important: the celebration of mass at the four basilicas, a tour of the Scavi excavations where the tomb and bones of St. Peter were discovered, and having the opportunity to visit other historic churches that contain the relics of saints or artwork that depict our Christian faith. It is known as the eternal city not simply because of its long history but for the living witness of faith that is found within its city walls.
Upon my return from this Ad Limina visit I shared some of these highlights with the priests at the Chrism Day conference. I said that the Diocese of Calgary will benefit from this visit in various ways but especially in being aware that the Church is universal and that this reality must always be present not only through my ministry as the successor of the apostles, but in being open to receive the gifts that the universal Church has to offer us here locally. I trust that these fruits of the Ad Limina Apostolorum visit will serve our diocesan pastoral planning initiatives in the future.
Statistical Highlights from the Quinquennial Report
Here are some exciting statistics from the Quinquennial report, presented during Bishop McGrattan’s Ad Limina visit to Rome, which shows our growing and changing landscape as we continue to share the good news of the Gospel. Below is a section of the table on the General Information requested by Rome:
The increase in the total number of Catholics in our diocese is substantial over the last fifteen years (showing a 37-50% annual growth). The sacramental data over the past fifteen years has been generally unchanged and matches population growth: the data shows more baptisms and initiatory sacraments as the Catholic population has increased. Marriage numbers, however, have declined greatly.
Other interesting points of data detailed in the report include the growing numbers and the involvement and importance of lay groups in the Diocese; an unfortunate decrease in the number of women joining women’s religious orders; and interesting trends emerging as we look at other Christian groups such as conservative Protestantism, conservative Anabaptists (Hutterian Brethren, Church of God in Christ, Mennonite) and Eastern Christianity (Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox) as they continue to increase in their number of churches and adherents; and finally, non-Christian groups are also generally growing in our diocese, with growth in Islam and Sikhism.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
The whole church goes on retreat for six weeks about a month and a half after the Christmas season. This annual spiritual renewal prepares us for the celebration of Christianity’s most fundamental belief: Jesus was raised from the dead and is Christ, the Lord. We need to see this event from both sides – before and after – because each side of the story is incomplete with out the other.
The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word that means “springtime.” And while the season acquired its name because the greatest part of Lent usually falls in the month of March, which is also the month of the spring solstice, it is the spiritual meaning that we must concern ourselves with. Lent can be seen as a springtime of the soul – a time of growth in the faith and a time to nurture the faith that is already present. It is a time of spiritual preparation, reflection, growth and change.
It is customary for the faithful to include fasting or restriction of some of their favourite foods or drinks during the forty days of Lent. It is also customary to spend more time in prayer and meditation, and to make personal sacrifices in the spirit of the season. Everyone is encouraged to seek God’s love in meaningful ways.
The forty days of Lent is a time in which we do penance, fast and pray to prepare ourselves for the resurrection of Our Lord; and also to remind us of His own fast of forty days before His Passion. The Lenten season begins officially on Ash Wednesday, and ends with the evening mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
On Ash Wednesday the spirit of Lent is embodied with the signing of our foreheads with ashes. All are reminded to be sorry for sin and to do penance, but not in a spirit of showy sadness or inward despair, but in humility, sincerity and inner joy. Knowing that God desires to forgive, to heal, and to share with all people His own divine life. Also, He asks us to discipline our passions gladly and with confidence of victory. Therefore, the Church encourages us to do some acts of penance – fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving.
Purple is the colour associated with the season of Lent and is prominent in the vestments and church decorations. It is a colour reminiscent of royalty and repentance. It reflects the serious and somber nature of this time in the life of the Church.
During Lent the joyful acclamations of “Alleluia” and “Glory to God” disappear from the liturgy. Similarly, the holy water fonts are emptied. Stones may be placed in the fonts, so as to cause those who approach to dip their fingers and make the sign of the cross to reflect on the sadness of Christ’s passion and death, and the reason that necessitated it – our sins. The ritual actions to which we are very accustomed, but perhaps have given little thought to or taken for granted, are now taken away so that we may better appreciate them and await their return when Jesus rises triumphantly on Easter Sunday breaking the bonds of sin and death.
The season of Lent describes mankind’s striving, failings, and finally salvation. The story that we recall as we commence Lent, is unfinished. Although Jesus has achieved our redemption, each human being must appropriate it to himself. To accomplish this, Jesus asks us to follow His example. To be another Christ means to serve our brothers and sisters around us, and by way of sacrifice – the spirit of the Lenten Season – to apply the fruits of the Redemption to our lives.
The message of Easter — of the resurrection of Jesus – takes us beyond the cross to the joy and hope that comes from knowing the Risen Lord. It was Christ risen that allowed his disciples to fully know that God exists, that there is a future for every human being, and that our cry for unending life is indeed answered in Him. This is the real message of Easter!
Images of Jesus’ passion, the carrying of the cross, and the acceptance of the Father’s will in sacrificial love have moved many in our diocese to see the suffering face of Christ in the refugee families that we have welcomed and supported. God moves us in faith to act with the same love that our Lord offers for the entire world. It is a love that restores dignity for those who have been exiled from their homes, transforming strangers into neighbours, and calling us to respond with compassion and care to those who are suffering and vulnerable. This is a true sign of the Easter faith which caused the disciples not to proclaim the tragedy of Jesus’ death but rather the sharing of his resurrection, the promise of eternal life with joy and confidence through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus revealed himself to the disciples in so many tangible ways especially in the enduring gift of himself “in the breaking of the bread“ – the Eucharist. He also commissioned Mary as the “apostle (the one sent) to the apostles,” to bring this good news of the resurrection to the world. He invites us like Mary to enter the tomb, to enter into the mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love. To enter into mystery means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us [cf. 1Kings 19:12] Like Mary we need humility to enter into this mystery. To know with confidence that our search for truth, beauty and love is fully revealed in the risen Christ. May our witness of this sacred mystery revealed in the dignity of each human person, silence the deafening call for euthanasia and assisted suicide in our country of Canada.
Easter calls us to promote with renewed vigor the sanctity of human life with grateful and joyful hearts. Easter calls us to move beyond the tomb with conviction to share the good news of the Resurrection with one another. Easter calls us to courageously follow Jesus Christ, the risen one, and to boldly proclaim that out of darkness and suffering come new life. This Easter let us rise up to meet the world and our culture of death with the witness of our faith. It is my hope that we discover new ways to share this Easter faith, the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary