Friday, August 15, 2008

Identity: The Blessed Virgin Mary

As we celebrate today the great feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss Mary’s special place in our Catholic Identity. It is actually one of the brighter spots in the health of our identity, for devotion to the Blessed Mother, while perhaps waning, is not dead like so many other key elements of our identity that I have already discussed or plan to in future posts.

Mary’s special place of honor among Christians has existed since Christ Himself “consigned” her to the love and care of John (and the Church) as he hung from the Cross. She was there for every step of her beloved son’s life, from her Fiat to bare Him, to His death on the Cross.

And Mary was there for others, whether her cousin Elizabeth in her time if need, or interceding for the first time at the Wedding of Cana where Christ performed His first miracle. From the earliest days of Christianity, she was considered to be Theotokos, the Mother of God, and the Church defended this title through many heresies.

At the local level, this love and devotion to Mary was shown in a number of ways: May Day Coronations, the Rosary, yard statues, scapulars, medallions, etc. One of the fastest ways to know if someone was Catholic was by notice if a Marian statue was in the front yard or a Miraculous Medal was around their neck.

Growing up Italian, the impact of Mary cannot be understated. Every street corner in Italy would have a niche with a statue of La Madonna (“Our Lady). Many a village in the Italian countryside had miracles attributed to the Madonna, each carrying their own title like Madonna di Anzano, Madonna della Grazia, Madonna del Soccorso, etc, and even Rome itself… La Madonna Auxillium Christianorum.

From these manifestations of Mary, great religious and civic feasts became a part of the Catholic identity, not only in the village in which the feast originated, but also to where their citizens immigrated. It was this identity that held the community together, drawing people to Christ and His Church, through Mary.

To share an example, here is the Feast of Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca in Sicily:

And here is where this identity was carried across the sea to Boston:

Now sadly, many of these traditions are being lost, or worse, even the feasts themselves are loosing their religious nature and becoming more secular celebrations with the Madonna as a mere prop.

But while we may forget that Mary is our Mother, she has not forgotten us, and like her Son, she has not left us alone… as Fatima, Lourdes, and Guadalupe show. She continues to call us to conversion and to follow her Son.

Let us pray that we like Mary might answer to God’s will… Ecce ancilla Domini…Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (Luke 1:38)