Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Pray to Mary in Front of the Blessed Sacrament?

Yesterday, I was asked one of the best questions about praying to Mary that I've come across: why do we pray to Mary in front of the Blessed Sacrament?  If we really believe that the Eucharist is Jesus, why focus on His mortal Mother instead of Him, when He's right there?

Let me provide some background.  Some friends of mine brought an Anglican friend (who has a genuine interest in Catholicism) with them to Mass.  He and I had earlier talked about the fact that his "Anglo-Catholic" parish takes a very high view of the Eucharist, believing in the Real Presence in some sense.  Through God's mysterious Providence, the homily was on the difference between the Anglican and Catholic understanding of the Eucharist (I love when God does things like this).  Father talked about an Anglican seminarian who didn't understand why he couldn't receive at Mass, and the priest he'd been speaking to responded, "Do you worship the consecrated Eucharist with the worship due to God alone?" The Anglican conceded that he didn't, and the gulf between the two views was made clear.

Since yesterday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, we had a Eucharistic procession after Mass, going from the church to the church cemetery.  Upon arriving, we worshiped Christ in the Eucharist and prayed the rosary. Afterwards, I had a chance to sit down with my Anglican friend, and we talked a bit about what had happened. He'd been struck by Father's homily, which convinced him to join us in adoration. But he had been disconcerted by the fact that we were praying the rosary: if what Father had said was true, that this was God Himself, why take time away from worshiping Him to honor Mary?

After thinking about it for a bit, I came up with two explanations. I'm curious what others think of these, and how they might have answered the question themselves:

1) One of the highest honors you can pay someone is to respect and honor their loved ones.  

For example, one of the best compliments you can give a man is to compliment his mother, wife, or children, those people he feels protective of. Complement him personally, absolutely, but tell him he has a good family, and you've really paid him a compliment.

I was fortunate enough to be in London when Queen Elizabeth's mother turned 100.  There was an enormous parade through the city, the "Queen Mum" was featured on money, and so on.  It was the most epic birthday party I've ever attended, I'll say that.  And of course, the guest of honor's daughter, the Queen of England, attended (and was, in fact, probably partially-responsible for the celebration). So here was the highest-ranking royal in the country, the Queen, yet everyone was paying attention to her mother. And the Queen wasn't even threatened or offended by this: why? Because (a) she's not insecure, (b) the Queen Mum wasn't a threat to her, and (3) she loved her mother.

Likewise with Christ. Mary isn't trying to become the fourth member of the Trinity, or steal Jesus' spot.  And God isn't insecure or jealous of Her.  Instead, He lavishes Her with honors, so that She's "clothed with the sun, with the moon under Her feet and a crown of twelve stars on Her head" (Rev 12:1), and She says of Herself in Luke 1:48-49, "From now on all generations will call Me Blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for Me."  And Christ makes clear that He loves and honors His Mother.  In addition to being Her God, He's also Her Son.  And like any loving Son, He thrills at seeing His Mother honored.

2) We should be very wary of pitting good against good.  

On the surface, my friend's question is a very good one.  Every moment we pray to Mary is a moment we're not praying to the God in front of us, right?  But I was reminded of Mark 14:3-5:
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
In fact, it's apparently in response to this that Judas decides to betray Christ (Mark 14:10).  So the woman has done a good thing, and the response of Judas and the others is essentially that it's not the best thing she could have done with that money (Christ actually disputes this, by the way - Mark 14:9).  My point is that there's always a demonic desire to turn good against good.  Every moment spent helping the poor could be spent in prayer, every dollar spent on building beautiful churches could be spent on the poor, every minute praying to Mary could be spent praying to Jesus.

We become incredibly stingy with our time, talent, and treasure when it comes to doing those things which are pleasing to God.  But do we ever hear people say, "every dollar spent on amusements could be spent helping the poor," or "every moment watching TV could be spent praying to Jesus"?  If so, it's much less common.  For that matter, every moment spent criticizing another Christian for helping the poor, or donating to the Church, or praying to Mary could be spent doing something good for God, like praying, rather than tearing apart the Body of Christ.  So instead of making one good the enemy of the other, why not spend all the time you want praying to Mary, and all the time you want praying to Jesus, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit?  If you find you have less time for TV or back-biting against other Christians, those are sacrifices that are much more worthy of being made.

Finally, Scripture tells us, "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).  So every moment in prayer to Mary, telling Her our troubles, asking Her for Her prayers, is a moment in obedience to God and Sacred Scripture.

17 comments:

  1. good points, but i think it may still beg the question...

    a couple articles on the question:
    USCCB: http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/innews/199.shtml
    Adoremus Society: http://www.adoremus.org/599Rosary.html

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  2. Praying to God is only praying to God.

    Praying the rosary is 3x the praying: the meditative prayer to God alone (the mysteries is meditative prayer , the Our Father, the Glory Be, The Fatima prayer)

    Then Mary prays for us right then, with us.

    Then she prays for us at our death.

    Thus, the rosary has 3 times the prayer to God alone than just praying to God alone.

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  3. Daniel,

    Well put. That seems to be part of the logic of interceding for one another -- it multiplies the prayers for a given individual or cause. This conversation dovetails nicely with today's First Reading, by the way (Abraham interceding for the city of Sodom).

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  4. My thoughts are right along with Daniel's, especially in regards to the mysteries of the Rosary. Properly said, it is a profound reflection and meditation on Christ's life and redemptive work.

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  5. I'm English. Hearing someone speak warmly about my country makes me very happy because it is praise of something which I love deeply...which I think is kinda the point Joe was making :-)

    I would also reference 1 Kings 2:19 where Bathsheba enters the throne room of her son Solomon. He bows down before her and puts her on a throne. He clearly doesn't see her as a threat to his authority or glory. If the king honoured his mother, don't you think the members of the court would have done the same?

    The account of Polycarp' martyrdom also answers the question about who ultimately gets the glory (sorry to go on about this document but I'm reading it at the moment so it's on my mind). After extensively praising Polycarp, the author tells his readers to copy and redistribute the letter so that other readers will "glorify the Lord". It's not a competition between God and His Saints!

    In praising the art, we praise the Artist.

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  6. I love when God does things like this.

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  7. Joe,

    Great post. I would add that praying the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament is appropriate since the Holy Rosary gives perfect honor to Christ. Mary gave Christ his flesh, and the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. It is only fitting that His Mother would always be with us when we adore Him.

    Since becoming Catholic, I have become amazed and perplexed by those who claim that the Rosary takes away from Christ. I'm convinced that the father of lies is behind this coup. I reflected on that here.

    Keep up the good work. Peace.

    Brent

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  8. Joe,

    Have you ever read The Mystical City of God by the Venerable Mary of Agreda? If not, I HIGHLY recommend it. It reveals many mysteries regarding Mary.

    And that goes for anybody else that has not read it.

    I can't really add to this conversation because my relationship with Mary is kinda like Bambi as he's learning to walk...

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  9. I agree with Brent in that the Rosary honors Christ. It is a Christ-centric prayer in which -while the vocal prayer is Marian - we are called to contemplate the mysteries of the life of Christ. It is only fitting, since the only thing Mary asked of others is to do what Christ told them. As such, when we pray the rosary, it's not even a question of taking time away from praying to God, that is simply the vocal part and only on the surface, but the rosary is meant to be a contemplative prayer and what we contemplate is the life of our Lord, from birth to death. That is why Blessed Pope John Paul The Great added the Mysteries of light, to complete the life of Our Lord in the rosary. We don't contemplate the life of Mary -as good as that would also be- we contemplate the life of Our Lord.

    In summary, I would say that what is needed to understand the rosary is to go past the vocal prayer and into mental and contemplation. The book of the rosary written by St. Josemaria Escriva starts with a short call to meditation, asking the reader to place himself in the scenes of the rosary and imagine himself there, so he may better contemplate the life of our Lord.

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  10. Hey Joe,

    Sorry to put the comment here, but I can't find a way to send you an email.

    Have you thought of adding tags or some index pages where you can group your posts by topic?

    God bless,

    RP

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  11. All,

    These comments have been great. Keep 'em coming!

    Brock,

    I've never read The Mystical City of God, and so I can't speak to whether it's orthodox or edifying. I know three things: (1) it was on the Index of Forbidden Books for a while, (2) Mary of Agreda was declared "Venerable," and (3) the process to her canonization was halted by the pope, and has remained stalled for centuries. # 2 is a positive sign, but # 1 and 3 mean you should proceed with caution.

    Restless Pilgrim,

    That makes a lot of sense. Do you know how to do it, or can you send me a link that explains it? I've also thought about having a section on the sidebar for a few of the more popular posts, or the ones I refer to a lot. Do you know if there is a way to do that? You can probably surmise how good I am with HTML by this comment.

    In Christ,

    Joe

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  12. Yeah... it's not without errors. It comes about as close to declaring Mary God as it possibly could, but it's beautifully written and pretty amazing if it is True.

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  13. I use WordPress rather than Blogger and, after a quick Google, it appears that setting up a tagging and a tag cloud is a little fiddly in Blogger, having to use third-parties....which is pretty lame.

    I think it might be easier to use a "static page" instead...

    I'll have a bit more of a poke around

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  14. No need! I just wondered if you knew off hand. Thanks, though!

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  15. Joe,

    You can easily create a "tag cloud". In blogger it is called labels. If your posts are "labeled" (look at the bottom of each post), you can also add tags/labels in the main page post-edit screen, the "cloud" will be created. Look on my blog at the bottom right for an example. It will automatically call it "labels' but I just renamed it "tag cloud".

    C'est pas grave!

    Good luck,

    Brent

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