Looking for a good book to read about Our Lady during this Marian month? Pick up What Mary Means to Christians.
Mary’s role in Christianity — long central to Catholic spirituality — suffers in America for two reasons: Some Protestants see any devotion to her as “Mariolatry,” while some “post-Vatican II” Catholics have marginalized her. Father Stravinskas’ slim book sets the record straight, reintroducing Catholics to their spiritual tradition associated with Mary, while making clear to Bible-believing Protestants that Mary’s role in Christianity has a solid scriptural basis which enjoyed support among reformers like Luther.
The book is divided into two parts. “The Life of Mary” contains 28 reflections of about two pages each that attempt a chronology of Mary’s life based on Scripture and Tradition. The former include those few New Testament events where Mary is mentioned: the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation and Finding in the Temple, Jesus’ passion and death and Pentecost. The latter obviously involves traditions like Mary’s childhood (derived from apocryphal sources, like the Protoevangelium of James) and her old age with St. John. “Mary in Catholic Devotion” contains eight reflections that touch upon subjects like the Rosary, Marian apparitions, devotion to the Seven Sorrows and Seven Words of Mary and the association of flowers with Mary. Appendices include a list of New Testament references to Mary and the mysteries of the Rosary. Each of the reflections concludes with a Marian passage from the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman, who grew up in a Protestant environment but was devoted to Mary even before his conversion.
Father Stravinskas’ Marian reflections both educate modern Catholics about what they might have forgotten from their own spiritual tradition as well as indicate how important those Marian traditions are to a Catholic’s spiritual life. Consider these reflections on the Annunciation:
As we think back on how the greatest event in human history [God becoming man] occurred, we stand in awe: The omnipotent God wanted and awaited human cooperation. God the Father made his plan for our salvation contingent on a human being’s saying, “Yes.” And so, Our Lady stands as a constant reminder of the great things that can happen when the human person cooperates with the divine initiative. But what she did and what God did through her was not a kind of “one-day sale”: The Lord intends that this happen in the life of every believer. Our participation is crucial for our salvation.
Father Stravinskas’ reflections also challenge Protestants to ask whether their antipathy to Marian tradition is, in fact, contrary to rather than keeping with their supposed “Bible only” rule of faith.
Consider these thoughts about Jesus committing Mary to John at the foot of the cross and their implications for Protestant doubts about Mary’s perpetual virginity:
If the Blessed Mother did have other children, as some non-Catholic Christians assert (relying on Gospel texts that speak of Jesus’ “brothers and sisters”) why would Jesus have acted thus? Would Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” have tolerated their mother being given to someone outside the family?
Some very modern Scripture scholars might criticize Father Stravinskas for not being sufficiently “critical” in approaching the Bible, especially the Infancy Narratives, but his method actually best reflects a healthy weave of Scripture and Tradition. It recognizes Scripture as part of lived faith, not just a dissected text.
Catholics whose knowledge of their Marian heritage is a bit anemic will find this short book a concise introduction to that heritage. Parish adult education might use the book to explain the Catholic Marian tradition. Protestants curious about what Catholics really think about Mary (and why) will find this book worthwhile to “expound unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning” her (Luke 24:27, KJV).
John M. Grondelski writes from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
WHAT MARY MEANS TO CHRISTIANS
An Ancient Tradition Explained
By Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
Paulist Press, 2012
102 pages, $9.95
To order: paulistpress.com