“What is devotion to Our Lady?’’ the little girl artlessly enquired.
“It is the gift of oneself to Our Lady,” the priest answered promptly.
How beautiful both the question and answer were put! I was struck with the shortness and completeness of it. The essential thing was very simply told. I doubt it could have been expressed better in so few words.
St Thomas Aquinas tells us that true devotion consists in a “prompt and complete gift of one’s entire self.” The word devotion indicates a giving, or better, a giving of self. This is not, of course, just any giving of self, but giving with love, with generousity, with delight.
Therefore my devotion to Our Lady ought to consist in a loving bestowal of myself to Our Lady; that is I should make a gift of myself to her. And if one who receives a gift can do with it what he wishes, then Our Lady can do whatever she wants with me, her gift, and I cannot do anything other than what she wants, what she finds pleasing, what she is effecting. The more devoted I am to Our Lady, the more I surrender myself to her and adjust my ways to suit her wishes, living in all respects under her guidance.
Marian devotion thus understood, in its fuller and more perfect sense, requires the consecration of oneself to Our Lady, the explicit offering to Mary of one’s whole being, of all that one is and all that one has – soul, body, senses; external goods, internal goods, present and future goods; one’s life, one’s death, and one’s eternity.
As Jesus did
The supreme example of devotion to Our Lady is something we receive from no one else than God himself. God was the One who first gave Himself to Mary. He gave Himself to her in so perfect a manner so as to become her Son. In this way Jesus was the first and greatest gift to Mary.
Yes, it is absolutely true. God Himself has set the greatest example, one which has infinite value and infinite beauty. If we consider that nothing else can belong to a creature in quite the same way that a son belongs to his parent, we can then comprehend what Jesus’ devotion to Mary was like, and what ours ought to me.
Mosaic of Christ. Photo: Dimitry B
If God, then gave Himself to Mary to the extent of becoming her Child, so we too ought to give ourselves to Mary so as to become her children. We, too, are to be children of Mary, like Jesus, our divine Model – we, her children by grace, Jesus, her Child by nature.
There is a lovely poem in which St Therese of Lisieux described the happy impression she experienced when dwelling on this sweet truth: Jesus and Therese are children of the same Mother; and it is our happy lot, our happy office, to imitate Jesus in His role as a child of Mary.
And this is necessary; for otherwise our conformity to Jesus would lack “a fundamental element” as Pope Pius XII declares. One cannot resemble Jesus if one does not have His Mother, or if one shows himself cold and indifferent to her. For that would be something we could not admit.
This reflection should be enough for us to understand how devotion to Our Lady is beyond doubt necessary for our sanctification, for our full conformity to Jesus.
If we add that Our Lady is the way of the Saviour for us, that is to say, our path of salvation, then we must convince ourselves that she is necessary even for our eternal salvation. This has been taught by the great Saints and Doctors of the Church, from St Ephrem to St Cyril of Alexandria down to John Damascene, continuing on to St Bernard, St Alphonsus Liguori right up to St Maximilian Kolbe. This means that the common doctrine of the Catholic Church regards devotion to Our Lady as something morally necessary for the Christian, both because the Mother holds a life-supporting role, and because we cannot succeed in conforming to Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary, unless we are tender and devoted sons of the common Mother of the whole Mystical Body. The more we are sons of Mary, the more we are brothers of Jesus; and vice versa.
For us to be children of Mary also; to behave as children of Mary; to live and love Our Lady as children: It is not possible to give Mary an offering of oneself which would have more beauty, more depth, and more love than this. True devotion to Our Lady, as distinguished from devotion to any other Saint, is the devotion of true and proper children for their divine Mother. It is filial love. And we can say that all Marian devotions of the Saints has had its particular expressions of intense filian love for her as their “dearest Mother” (St Maximillian Kolbe), “good Mother” (St Margaret M Alacoque), precious Mother” (St Veronica Giuliani), beautiful Mother (St Bertilla), “beloved Mother” St Alphonsus Liguori), in a word “my Mamma” (St Paul of the Cross, St Gemma, and many others).
We may venture to say that the following strong sentiment of St Bonaventure belongs to all the Saints: “To say to you that you are my Mother is next to nothing; oh Mary, you are my absolute love!” Let us remember too, that the tender visits to the Blessed Virgin Mary of St Alphonsus Liguori; visits by which he has nourished the love of generations of devout souls and in which are contained the most precious and tender utterances of many Saints towards our most sweet Mother.
The first thing we must ask of Our Lady is precisely this: filial love. And we ought to beg for it with persistence, with humble and affectionate determination. In this regard, we ought to imitate St Felix of Catalice who was so attentive to being a good son of Mary that for forty years, he always made this prayer when passing before a Marian shrine of altar: “O noble Mother of God, I desire to love you like a good son.”
Top photo: Viktor Vasnetsov/Waiting for the Word
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr Stefano Manelli’s book Devotion to Our Lady. Visit the Academy of the Immaculate website: academyoftheimmaculate.com