Romano Guardini wrote in his book on the Rosary, “To linger in the domain of Mary is a divinely great thing. One does not ask about the utility of truly noble things, because they have their meaning within themselves. So it is of infinite meaning to draw a deep breath of this purity, to be secure in the peace of this union with God.”
Guardini was speaking of spending time with Mary in praying the Rosary, but David Mills, in his latest book, Discovering Mary, helps us linger in the domain of Mary by opening up to us the riches of divine revelation, both from tradition and Scripture. Mills, a convert from the Episcopal Church, former editor of the Christian journal Touchstone and editor of the 1998 book of essays commemorating the centennial of C.S. Lewis’ birth The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, as well as the author of Knowing the Real Jesus (2001), has written a rock-solid introduction to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and done so with intellectual rigor and an affable tone.
His book begins with an introduction in which he describes how he came to discover the riches of the Church’s teachings on Mary: “I began to see how a sacred vessel is made holy by the sacred thing it carries,” he writes. “I began to feel this in a way I had not before. I found myself developing an experiential understanding of Mary and indeed a Marian devotion. Which surprised me. It surprised me a lot.”
Unfortunately, he notes, he did not learn about Mary from contemporary Catholics, nor in homilies, “even on Marian feast days.” It seems he learned on his own by reading magisterial documents and going back to Scriptures in light of those documents.
This book shares the fruit of that study. Mills examines the life of Mary, Mary in the Bible, Mary in Catholic doctrine, Marian feast days and the names of Mary. He includes an appendix full of references to papal documents and books on Mary.
Most of the book is done in a question-and-answer format, which usually works well, although at times it feels awkward. Would someone really ask, for instance, “What is happening in the liturgy on the Marian feast days?”
But most of the questions are natural. “What is the point of Marian devotion?” Mills asks. It is “to live the Catholic life as well as we can,” he answers. “This means going ever more deeply into the mystery of Christ, to become saintlier, more conformed to his image, by following Mary’s example and by turning to her for help and comfort.”
Next question: “Does devotion to Mary detract from our devotion to Christ?”
“Christians since the beginning of serious Marian devotion have been careful to emphasize Mary’s subordination to her son,” Mills replies. “In fact, they have said it so often that the reader begins to expect it. In the fifth century St. Ambrose put it nicely: ‘Mary was the temple of God, not the god of the temple.’”
David Mills, with the same radical clarity he showed in Knowing the Real Jesus, has written what has to be one of the best, if not the very best, short introductions to Catholic teaching on Mary, the Mother of God. Discovering Mary is ideal for those wanting to know more about her, whether they be skeptics, Protestants, or Catholics who don’t know the Mother of the Church well enough.
Franklin Freeman writes from Saco, Maine.
Answers to Questions About the Mother of God
By David Mills
Servant Books, 2009
148 pages, $12.99
To order: servantbooks.org