Is a Marian Springtime at Hand?



by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

USCCB Publishing, 2003 184 pages, $14.95

To order: (800) 235-8722

What if the U.S. bishops had come out with a document on Mary shortly after the Second Vatican Council that fostered fervent devotion to her as Mother of God and Mediatrix, and strongly endorsed the rosary and other traditional devotions? Surely a document along these lines would have prevented the decline in Marian practices and prayers that seemed to sweep through the Church in the council's wake.

Well, guess what? The U.S. bishops did issue such a document in 1973. It stated, “First of all, we should clearly understand that the Second Vatican Council in no way downgraded faith in or devotion to Mary. On the contrary, the eighth chapter of the Constitution on the Church is a clear and penetrating account of Catholic teaching on the Blessed Mother of God.”

Of course, as the Church learned with Vatican II itself, to write the truth is one thing. It is a more difficult task to pass on the truth and defend it in the everyday practice of the Church. Still, there is wisdom in putting the truth into print. Someone at some time could pick up the book and read it for the betterment of all.

Such might be the role of Mary in the Church: A Selection of Teaching Documents, released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last November. The lead document is the somewhat neglected 1973 pastoral letter Behold Your Mother: Woman of Faith, which reaffirms the central place of Mary in the Church while admitting that Marian devotion fell on hard times after Vatican II.

Also reprinted in the book are Pope Paul VI's 1974 apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus, on the right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and two better-known documents by Pope John Paul II: the 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer) and the 2002 apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary), which introduced the new luminous mysteries of the rosary. The result is a treasury of Marian doctrine and devotion that explains why Mary should be the focus of Christian attention. It would make fruitful reading for parish prayer groups or RCIA classes.

The 1973 bishops' conference document is also an interesting historical document, as the bishops address the problem of declining Marian devotion. In Chapter 3, they note that “some have the erroneous impression that the Second Vatican Council minimized or even denied the mediation of Mary. Although it used the word fimediatrix' only once and altogether avoided the words fico-redemptrix' and fidispenstrix,' the council both retained and deepened Catholic understanding of Our Lady's mediatorial role.” True as this might be, the question remains why such doubts were raised about Mary's role in the first place.

The time is ripe for a springtime for Mary in this country, which is dedicated to her under the title of the Immaculate Conception. The timing of the bishops might be just right.

Stephen Vincent is based in Wallingford, Connecticut.