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.
☩ Most Reverend William T. McGrattan, D.D.
Bishop of Calgary
Because of the importance of Christmas, the Church extends the celebration of this solemnity to cover a period of eight days.
The Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the first Sunday after Christmas. It seems to be sandwiched between the greater feasts of Christmas and Epiphany – but it is much more than a simple filler.
When we read the gospel accounts of Christmas, it might seem surprising, but we are not given answers to normal questions that might be asked shortly after the birth of a baby. For example, we might ask how much did he weigh? What did he look like? Did he cry much? Did he feed well? Did he sleep well? How did he react to his odd visitors? Did he have a full head of hair? What colour were his eyes, etc.? We know none of these details. He was just a baby. We know how God prepared Mary and Joseph for the birth, but the central moment of Christmas eve is over in one sentence in St. Luke’s Gospel, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
On Christmas morning, like St. Luke, St. John hardly mentions the birth of the child, but he leaves us no doubt about what is going on. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh…”
The extraordinary power that enabled the whole universe is suddenly contained in a human baby. John starts with the big picture – the creative life of God. We believe that at Christmas God starts with the small picture. A child is something we can understand. A human baby is a symbol of life and hope. Each new human life is special, indeed unique and miraculous. God is always life-giving, and the birth of Jesus is God’s offer of new life. In Jesus, God offers us the chance to start a new life, as though we were born again as babies. We can be born into the family of God and learn from this family environment.
In Helena’s Epiphany meditation, author, Evelyn Waugh talks to the wise men as those who represent all of us who trust in human wisdom alone.
“How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts! …Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass. You are… patrons of all latecomers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.”
At the crib of Jesus all are welcome, and that is what the wise men tell us. Over the centuries, they have come increasingly to represent everybody. Jesus is not just the possession of people who already know him or of people who are already pure in heart. He draws around the crib, of his new kingdom, all kinds of people with all kinds of talents. Whatever our lives have been up until now, as we look at the baby lying in the straw we can see in him the loving activity of God. We are invited to know him, accept his gift of life, and finally, to tell his story.
The Feast of the Holy Family reminds to contemplate two different meaningful realities:
First of all, that no one is excluded from God’s closeness. Pope Francis in his Angelus Message said: “Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty, and unease [cf Mt 2:13-15; 19-23]. Unfortunately, in our own time, millions of families can identify with this sad reality. Almost every day, television and papers carry news about refugees fleeing hunger, war, and other grave dangers, in search of security and a dignified life for themselves and their families.
In distant lands, even when they find work, refugees and immigrants do no always find a true welcome, respect and appreciation for the values they bring. Their legitimate expectations collide with complex situations and problems that at times appear insurmountable.
...The flight into Egypt caused by Herod’s threat shows us that God is present where man is in danger, where man is suffering, where he is fleeing, where he experiences rejection and abandonment; but God is also present where man dreams, where he hopes to return in freedom to his homeland and plans and chooses life for his family and dignity for himself and his loved ones.”
Secondly, our gaze must encompass the simplicity of life in Nazareth. Jesus grew up in the normal busyness of family life, and he was taught and counselled by both Mary and Joseph.
The family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another. The family is where we learn how to talk, and listen to each other. It is where we first learn to support and heal, forgive and love. If we don’t learn to do this in family, it will be hard to do it among races and countries, in neighbourhoods, all of which include wildly distinct individuals. It is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children.
Pope Francis continued in the Angelus Message to say, “Let us remember the three key words for living in peace and joy in the family: “may I,” “thank you,” and “sorry.”
When we explain that we do not want to be intrusive, we ask “may I?” When we are not selfish, but aware and grateful, we say “thank you.” When we make mistakes and apologize, we say “sorry,” then there is peace.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY FAMILY
Angelus Message, December 29, 2013
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
In you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family
and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer.
☩ Frederick Henry
“... the rosary should always be seen and experienced as a path of contemplation.”
Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of the mystery: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” [Jn. 1:14].
Pope John Paul II recently acknowledged that his favourite prayer, the rosary, has accompanied him in moments of joy and difficulty. To it, he has entrusted a number of his concerns, and in it he has always found comfort. Beginning this 25th year of his service as the Successor of Peter, he has proclaimed the year from October 2002 to October 2003 the Year of the Rosary.
His proclamation affords us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of this tool for enhancing our spiritual life.
Though clearly Marian in character, this prayer is at heart a Christocentric prayer. “In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium. It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. With the rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love” [RVM, 1].
Without contemplation, the rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words” [Mt. 6:7].
By its nature the rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of Mary. The very repetition involved is somewhat similar to a mantra which can work a slow but deep transformation of our hearts.
Although not writing specifically about the rosary, G. K. Chesterton suggested that repetition is a characteristic of the vitality of children, who like the same stories, with the same words, time and time again, not because they are bored and unimaginative but because they delight in life. Chesterton wrote: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead, for grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says to every morning ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes each daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore” [Orthodoxy, p. 92].
This practice of piety easily harmonizes with the liturgy. Like the liturgy, it draws its inspiration from Sacred Scripture. Although existing on essentially different planes of reality, both have as their objects the same salvific events of Christ as their object. The liturgy, which is the activity of Christ and the Church, by way of effective signs and symbols, presents anew the great mysteries of our redemption. The rosary, by means of devout contemplation, recalls these same mysteries to the mind of the person praying and stimulates the will to draw from them the norms of living.
Although praying the rosary is a wonderful preparation for the celebration of the liturgy, to recite the rosary during the celebration itself is a mistake [cf. Marialis Cultus, 48].
In order to bring out the fully the Christological depths of the rosary, Pope John Paul II has suggested an addition to our traditional pattern of the recitation of the rosary to include the “luminous” mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion. These mysteries of light include: (1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding feast of Cana, (3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, (4) his Transfiguration, and finally (5) his institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery. Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.
Where might the “mysteries of light” be inserted? Without intending to limit rightful personal freedom and community prayer, the Holy Father suggests Thursdays. His proposed re-alignment would then be: Joyful Mysteries – Monday and Saturday; Sorrowful Mysteries – Tuesday and Friday; Glorious Mysteries – Wednesday and Sunday; and Luminous Mysteries – Thursday. What is really important is that the rosary should always be seen and experienced as a path of contemplation.
Contemplating Christ through the various stages of his life, leads us to come face-to-face with our own identity. Contemplating Christ’s birth, we learn of the sanctity of life; seeing the household of Nazareth, we learn the original truth of the family according to God’s plan; listening to the Master in the mysteries of his public ministry, we find the light that leads us to enter the Kingdom of God; and following him on the way to Calvary, we learn the meaning of salvific suffering. Finally, contemplating Christ and his Blessed Mother in glory, we see the goal towards which we are called, if we allow ourselves to be healed by the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, it becomes natural for us to bring to such prayer all the problems, anxieties, labours and endeavours which make up our lives. “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you” [Ps. 55:23].
☩ Frederick Henry