This month of May is ebbing away, and seeming as this month is consecrated to Mary in a special way, it seemed poignant to write an article in Mary's honour. Such a topic is dear to my heart, because ever since I have fully embraced living out a Mariology -especially after having read 'True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary' by St. Louis Marie De Montfort- my interior-life and exterior-life has been enriched in so many ways -especially in regards to my personal relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For indeed as the Early Church Father St. Bail the Great has said: "God has ordained that she should assist us in everything!" [379 AD.]. Yet before we consider what Mariology is, and why we should bother with it –defending its practice and identifying the excellence of this devotion– it would serve us well to shed light on a few additional terms: Theology and Christology.
The term Theology has its origns from the Greek word theologia (θεολογία); with Theos, meaning 'God', and logia or more precisely logos meaning 'study'. Theology is thus -as all Theology students are told in every introductory unit- the study of God. However such study does not just have a purely intellectual dimension to it, but rather it has a practical, tangible and lived dimension to it. After all God is more person than any person, and He is inherently relational, and so it would be impossible to really 'study' Him unless one entered into and developed a relationship with Him. Thus Theology is really the lived study of God; and this study requires faith and reason. This is why Theology is also known as 'the science of faith' or 'faith seeking understanding', or even, as one Jewish theologian I read a while ago put it: 'faith seeking meaning'.
The term Christology has its origins in Greek and simply means Christos-logia: the study (logia/logos) of Christ (Christos). However jumping on the band wagon of the logic we used to define Theology; a more accurate definition of Christology would be the lived study of Christ, a study integrating the knowledge of the mind, and the wisdom and understanding of the heart, gleaned through a personal relationship with Christ. All true study and true devotion leads to and culminates in Christ; since He is God and Man, and to Him alone belong all "power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev 5:12).
Finally, the term Mariology having its origins in the Latin word Maria, meaning Mary, and the Greek word logos meaning study; simply means the study of Mary. Yet in line with our train of rationale we can more accurately define Mariology as the lived study of Mary, which we do through entering into and developing one’s relationship with Her. After all, this is accomplished most excellently through a true devotion to Mary; and such a devotion can be called Mariology par excellence. This true devotion to Mary involves the following 'interior practices' as De Monfort sets forth in his renowned book (TD Part 1, 115):
1. Honouring her, as the worthy Mother of God, by the cult of hyperdulia, that is, esteeming and honouring her more than all the other saints as the masterpiece of grace and the foremost in holiness after Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
2. Meditating on her virtues, her privileges and her actions.
3. Contemplating her sublime dignity.
4. Offering to her acts of love, praise and gratitude.
5. Invoking her with a joyful heart.
6. Offering ourselves to her and uniting ourselves to her.
7. Doing everything to please her.
8. Beginning, carrying out and completing our actions through her, in her, with her, and for her in order to do them through Jesus, in Jesus, with Jesus, and for Jesus, our last end.
He also outlines a dozen principle ‘exterior practices’ in which this true devotion, this Mariology as we might say, is lived out. Some of these include (TD Part 1, 116):
1. Making her privileges known and appreciated.
2. Giving alms, fasting, performing interior and exterior acts of self-denial in her honour.
3. Carrying such signs of devotion to her as the rosary, the scapular, or a little chain.
4. Reciting with attention, devotion and reverence the Holy Rosary.
5. Solemnly giving oneself to her by a special consecration.
We might also add the importance of intellectual formation which we can achieve through study of Scripture in the light of Mary, daily meditation of the Holy Rosary, and spiritual reading about our Lady and the teachings and dogma's concerning Her.
Of course Mariology is not an end in itself, but rather the perfect pathway or ladder which leads us to Christ. Since as St. Fulgentius (533 A.D.), bishop of Ruspe states: "Mary is the ladder of heaven; for by Mary God descended from Heaven into the world, that by her men might ascend from earth to Heaven." For "it was through the Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus came into the world, and it is also through her that" we must come to Jesus. So even if one is unaware of Mary in their relationship with Christ, still they have passed through Her; for She is the gate through which salvation comes, because Christ is our salvation and He comes through Mary. De Montfort reiterates the Christocentric, that is the Christ centered nature and purpose of this true devotion to Mary:
If then we are establishing sound devotion to our Blessed Lady, it is only in order to establish devotion to our Lord more perfectly, by providing a smooth but certain way of reaching Jesus Christ. If devotion to our Lady distracted us from our Lord, we would have to reject it as an illusion of the devil. But this is far from being the case. As I have already shown and will show again later on, this devotion is necessary, simply and solely because it is a way of reaching Jesus perfectly, loving him tenderly, and serving him faithfully.
So indeed this true devotion is not only Mariology par excellence, but Christology par excellence. Of course there are many who refute this, and we shall briefly address those whom De Montfort calls ‘scrupulous devotees’ of our Lady.
De Monfort on Scrupulous Devotees to our Lady
Scrupulous devotees are those who imagine they are slighting the Son by honouring the Mother. They fear that by exalting Mary they are belittling Jesus…They do not want us to speak too often of her or to pray so often to her.
Here are some of the things they say: "What is the good of all these rosaries, confraternities and exterior devotions to our Lady? …We should go directly to Jesus, since he is our sole Mediator. We must preach Jesus; that is sound devotion." There is some truth in what they say, but the inference they draw to prevent devotion to our Lady is very insidious. It is a subtle snare of the evil one... For we never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly.
[For this reason] the Church, with the Holy Spirit, [as spoken by St. Elizabeth and as recorded in Scripture] blesses our Lady first, then Jesus, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." [Lk 1:42]. Not that Mary is greater than Jesus, or even equal to him - that would be an intolerable heresy. But in order to bless Jesus more perfectly we should first bless Mary.
Having explored the ‘what’ of Mariology, and having briefly touched upon its ‘why’ –through a defense of the lived study of true devotion to Mary– let us now consider the living testimony of those who were closest to Jesus and Mary whilst they lived their mortal life on earth.
|The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56).|
St. Joseph and John the Masters of Christology and Mariology:
Following in Their Footsteps
Authentic Mariology or Marian studies is, as we have explored, by its very nature Christocentric; because of all studies and devotions, that which pertains to Mary, leads us most directly and draws us most near to the one whom our Lady is inseparable –Jesus Himself. After all, let us consider the men who were nearest and most intimate with our Lord whilst He lived His mortal life on earth: Joseph who raised the Lord Jesus as a child, and who loved Him as a most affectionate father; and John the Beloved who was especially close to our Lord who drew him nigh to rest on his breast at the Last Supper (Jn 13:23). It is no coincidence that these same very men –Joseph and John- were besides Jesus Himself, the closest to our Lady whilst She lived Her mortal life on earth. We can easily perceive how Joseph was the closest to our Lady whilst She lived on earth, for he was Her spouse, and was the chosen instrument of the Father through whom was cast the protecting shadow, that permitted Mary to conceive the Word in safety. John the Beloved was clearly most intimate with our Lady for besides the various Church traditions which seem to indicate this fact, in the Gospel of John we read that from the day of the crucifixion John took Mary into his house as his own mother in the stead of Christ (Jn 19:72). This is a remarkably clear indicator that John was most intimate to our Lady, since out of all the men on the face of the earth in that time, and out of all the Apostles, he was the one who was chosen to be in a special way the son of Mary and for Mary to be his mother.
|Our Lady of Knock: An apparition in which Joseph, Mary and John appeared, along with a lamb and a cross on an altar, symbolising Jesus (left to right).|
It can be said that the intimacy Joseph and John had with Jesus intensified their relationship and devotion to Mary; and in turn the intimacy they had with Mary intensified their bond of intimacy with Jesus. Therefore we can aptly say that Joseph first and foremost, followed by St. John (at least during Jesus’ and Mary’s earthly life, since other saints may have surpassed the degree of his union since then) are the masters of Christology and Mariology. For in knowledge of the head, and in wisdom of the heart, these men knew and loved Jesus and Mary beyond all other men. Nor could they have been masters of Christology if they were not masters of Mariology. For with the magnifying glass of their Mariology, they came to behold with ever greater clarity and depth the wonders of Christ. It is true that “Jesus, our Saviour, true God and true man must be the ultimate end of all our other devotions [and studies]; otherwise they would be false and misleading.” Yet this is precisely the ultimate end of Mariology, for Mariology is the ladder which leads to Christ, and without it, one’s Christology, one’s understanding of Christ, is limited to the extent that one can only know Christ so much when one is standing at the base of the ladder looking up. Through Mariology, through study of and devotion to Mary, we come to climb this ladder. Yet we must not hesitate and cease to climb this ladder of Mariology, stopping ‘half-way’ in our devotion and in the boldness and depth of our Marian understandings. For by doing so in fear, thinking that we are slighting or doing a disservice to Jesus by honouring Mary and studying the marvels the Trinity have and continue to operate in Her, we are in fact doing a disservice to Jesus by our very hesitation in climbing this Mariological ladder. “For we never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way [-the perfect way-] leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son.” So as we have said, through Mariology, through study of and devotion to Mary, we come to climb She the Ladder which leads to Jesus, and in so doing we follow in the footsteps of Joseph and John, and thus become like them – in, with, and through Mary – intimate companions of our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems appropriate to end with an excerpt from True Devotion to Mary:
As this devotion essentially consists in a state of soul, it will not be understood in the same way by everyone. Some - the great majority - will stop short at the threshold and go no further. Others - not many - will take but one step into its interior. Who will take a second step? Who will take a third? Finally who will remain in it permanently? Only the one to whom the Spirit of Jesus reveals the secret. The Holy Spirit himself will lead this faithful soul from strength to strength, from grace to grace, from light to light, until at length he attains transformation into Jesus in the fullness of his age on earth and of his glory in heaven.
 Louis Marie de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, Montfort Publications, New York: 2009, Part 1, Introduction, 1.
 Ibid., Part 1, 62.
 Saint Joseph was not only the closest to our Lady whilst She lived on earth, but He is also –besides Christ- the nearest and most intimate with our Lady in paradise; for no man can be raised to a higher dignity than that which was bestowed on Saint Joseph.
 Op.cit., True Devotion, Part 1, 61.
 Ibid., 94.
 Ibid., Part 1, 119.