During the month of May we honour the Blessed Virgin Mary in various ways. This month is also blessed with two important Marian feasts. One of them is the feast of ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ celebrated on 13th May and another is the feast of Mary Help of Christians celebrated on 24th May which is made popular especially in the Northeast of India by the Salesian Missionaries. Mary is venerated under hundreds of names but what is significant is that the devotion to her has gone deep into the psyche of Catholics. She is dear to them as the mother of God and a dear mother to each one of them whom they can approach with confidence. So her devotion is growing daily which in no way diminishes their knowledge of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ who is the saviour of the world and the universal Fatherhood of God.
Our Lady of Fatima: The Church celebratedthis year the century of the first apparition of our Bl. Mother at Fatima on May 13, 1917 to the three shepherd children, Jacinta, Francis and Lucy. Pope Francis personally went to Fatima to join in the centenary of the apparition, to pray before the Mother and canonize the two visionaries, Jacinta and Francis.
Consecration to the Immaculate heart of Mary: Besides her plea to pray the rosary, accept every suffering that comes our way as willed by God and offer them as reparation for sins and the conversion of sinners, she asked the children to ask authorities to consecrate the whole world to her Immaculate Heart and thus belong to Christ. It is a powerful means for spiritual growth for the individuals and the Church and is an opportunity to seek Mary’s maternal help and protection at these challenging times. This consecration can be done individually or as a group and ‘tends essentially to union with Jesus under the guidance of Mary’ (Pope Pius XII). Pope Francis says that Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus. If so, she is also able to turn our sinful hearts into homes for Jesus. So through this consecration we entrust ourselves to her.
Living the consecration means becoming a better missionary disciple of Christ like Mary, striving to imitate her virtues and place in her hand a bouquet of our little sacrifices of reparation for the salvation of souls. Such persons can expect the promise made by our Lady through Lucia, “I will never leave you; my immaculate heart will be yourrefuge and the way that leads you to God.” Consecration implies an ardent desire for personal holiness of life modelled on Mary and concern for the salvation of others.Through consecration we will be given a new perspective to see as Christ sees and to desire what he desires thus we will be drawn closer to the Father sharing more fully in his divine life.
Growth of Marian devotions: The practice of dedicating themonth of May to the Blessed Mother rose at the end of 13th century. It was a means to Christianise secular feasts that were to take place at that time of the year. In the 16th century books were published that fostered this devotion. This practise became popular in Roman College of the Jesuits and their churches in Rome and from there it spread throughout the world.
The Popes: Popes have been constantly encouraging Marian devotion and the recitation of the Rosary. Pope Pius XII said that honouring Mary is one of the ‘other exercises of piety which though not strictly belonging to the Sacred Liturgy, are nevertheless of special import and dignity.’They have been approved and praised over and over again by the Apostolic Sea and the Bishops. Pope Paul VI said that Marian devotion is a means of obtaining prayers for peace. “Through this the Blessed Virgin Mary is honoured and Christian people are enriched with spiritual gifts”. Pope Francis as the Bishop of Buenos Aires promoted devotion to the Blessed Mother by introducing and promoting devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots’. In EvangeliumGaudium he says that Mary is a missionary who draws near us and accompanies us throughout our life opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. As a true mother she walks at our side, shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love.’ At Fatima he prayed that she may help by her prayers to God to help us break down the wall of separation between peoples as ‘in the depths of your being, in your immaculate heart, you keep the sorrows of the human family, as they mourn and weep in this valley of tears."
Benefits of this devotion: We notice that wherever there is faith, there is the example of Mary because she lived by faith as the scriptures remind us. Our devotion to the Blessed mother emphasises her participation in the paschal mystery of Christ and with Pentecost with which the church was born. It points out the earthly role played by our Glorious Queen here and now as any other woman.
Roman Pontiffs are eager to point out the excellence of rosary. The exhorted the faithful to frequent recitation of the rosary as they are biblically inspired prayers which is cantered on the contemplation of the salvific events in the life of our saviour and their close association with our Virgin Mother. St. Louis de Montfort in his book The Secret of the Rosaryencouraged community recital of the rosary saying, ‘when people say the Rosary together it is far more formidable to the devil than one said privately, because in this public prayer it is an army that is attacking him."
Why honour Mary? The Church teaches two truths most emphatically: (1) God alone, the Supreme, Infinite Being, must be adored. To adore any creature, however exalted, would be to commit idolatry. (2) Jesus Christ alone is our Mediator of Redemption. He alone, by his supreme sacrifice of infinite value, redeemed and ransomed mankind. But there is an innate law engraven on human hearts that dictates that special honour should be shown to creatures who are clothed with a special dignity. Children must honour their parents; servants must revere their masters; soldiers must respect their officers; subjects must show loyalty to their rulers. So we give supreme honourto God which we term adoration; there is an inferior honour that we not only may but must show to all creatures who are clothed with special dignity. The most prominent among them is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of all creatures Mary had the unique privilege of adoring her own Child. To Mary alone can God the Son address the sweet title ‘Mother’! And what a marvellous dignity conferred on the humble Virgin of Nazareth!
Not only do we honour Mary; we also invoke her or ask her intercession. Some objectors say that we should pray to God alone. Well, Catholics certainly pray directly to God, for they regard the ‘Our Father’ as the best and most beautiful of all prayers and frequently recite it. But they pray also to Mary, asking her to intercede for them with her divine Son.
If St. Paul asked the Romans tohelp him in their prayers for him to God (Rom. 15:16), if he wrote to the Thessalonians, "Pray for us," why may we not ask Mary, who is far holier and nearer to God than the Roman and Thessalonian converts. God commanded the making of certain images in the Old Law, as we read in various parts of the Old Testament. For instance, he ordered Moses to make two cherubim (angels) of beaten gold, the bronze serpent. But they were not considered Gods. In the same way Christians make images of the Blessed mother and saints knowing that they are not gods but to remind them of the saints and to imitate them in their commitment to Jesus Christ.
Let this month of May and every Marian Feast be an occasion for us to become like a child of God who approaches the mother of God with innocence. We shall askher prayer and protection for us and our people as we journey on our way with all the other children of God he has placed along our side.
+Archbishop John Moolachira
Archbishop of Guwahati