Expressions of Marian Devotion
|The normal expression of devotion to Mary embarrasses no
one who understands the motive. Some (and I include some Catholics among
these) do not generally approach Mary with personal love and affection;
their general approach to the faith is ideological, cool, calculating
critical reasoning. We won't find faithful Catholics, though,
restraining their normal expressions of devotion in order to try to
appease those who make their own exhibition of a certain diminished
Christian expression of the human (a certain de-Incarnationizing) from
which all Protestant cultures (ours being the remains of such) suffer.
What they see as "worship" of Mary is in fact quite normal
cultural expressions of love. People are honoring Mary for her maternal
love universal in the order of Grace by the grace given to her; the
people in their devotion manifest the spiritual beauty of Mary's love
and their own toward her.
The faithful know Mary is not a statue, just as they know she is not God! They are not confused. The palpability of the statue impresses upon their consciousness the maternal presence through grace of Mary's influence in their home or parish, similarly to having a relic of a Saint. Awareness of the Blessed Mother is more intense and changes the pattern of family and parochial devotion and practice. It is a sacramental presence. Because they (we) don't look at the statue as the reality but the person represented, she becomes more present to them (us). If any Protestant is present when these devotions take place and doesn't understand, then dialogue eliciting their attitudes and comparing them to Catholic ones is what is needed, not trying to hide or cover up anything; but Catholics who are simply expressing their love for the Blessed Virgin shouldn't be inhibited. That's what the Protestant doesn't get -- the love that's going on, unless they're non-judgmental and perceptive.
The reason for the "scandal" of popular religious culture is the judgmental, self-righteous looking down the nose with Bible-alone standards of those who do not accept fully the humanity graced within the Church. The unselfconscious expression of affection and piety is to be accepted rather than sanitized, and rather directed than suppressed by the clergy. (And we mustn't be like an immigrant's child embarrassed by the foreignness of his parents' speech and ways.) Protestants who take scandal at this humanity simply do not sufficiently appreciate the Incarnation and should be challenged in their assumptions of criticism, for they are criticizing the most natural and human expression of the Incarnation in a love for the human contributor to the Divine Mystery: Mary, God's Mother, and ours also, by the same Mystery, since she is Mother of the whole Christ. The expression of love for her will be different for an English Catholic than for a Filipino; different for a German Catholic than for a Mexican.
One forms one's sense of appropriateness in these matters according to the culture in which one is reared. Scripture alone is not the Catholic way: Scripture and the Living Tradition is the Catholic way. The living forms of piety completely incarnating Catholic Faith in a culture are what one must accept if one is to really practically commune in the Catholic Church. I read of Cardinal Newman having been asked if he had read St. Alphonsus Liguori's The Glories of Mary. He said no and had no intention of reading it as his sensibility to Mary was thoroughly English, by which he meant understated. He was of course tolerant of other expressions for others, like the Italian, but not for himself. He would only call them inappropriate for himself. He would never have thought them inappropriate as such.
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