For Catholics around the world, devotion to Mary takes on a variety of spiritual and cultural forms. There is no shortage of Marian feasts, devotions and practices. For example, praying the Rosary, either at home or in a church setting, is a common spiritual practice among many Catholics. But, there are also many other Marian practices that may be less familiar. People more accustomed to a quieter celebration may deem some of the other Marian devotions extravagant, festive or too irreverent.
We can point to the different Marian processions gracing the cobblestone streets of various towns and provinces and be challenged by their high display of expressive gestures and emotional reactions. The procession of the sorrowful Mother during Holy Week in Pamplona, Spain, for example, while reflective of the deep devotion people have for Mary, can come across as excessive to those of us unfamiliar with the local customs of movement, music and prayer. Similarly, witnessing the secular and cultural celebrations in Mexico City associated with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe can seem strange to our religious sensitivity and personal piety.
But whether we find favor with the quiet or boisterous devotions associated with Mary, one thing remains constant: Mary continues to engage our hearts, minds and imaginations. The story and courage of this young Jewish woman never ceases to amaze us. For Catholics, in particular, Mary is the one predestined to be the Mother of God; she is immaculate, the one conceived without sin, and remains ever virgin. To her, the angel Gabriel announces the good news of the Incarnation, patiently awaiting her response. And it is Mary who in her assumption returns to her heavenly home.
So, it’s no wonder that our hearts, minds and imaginations continue to be blessed by her witness and example of life. Indeed, the greeting of “full of grace” given to Mary by the angel Gabriel still echoes in our hearts. The angel’s greeting is not just an intimate, unique, historical word spoken many centuries ago, it’s also a living salutation that still challenges and calls to us today. Like Mary, the salutation we hear invites us to hold everything in the fullness of our own hearts and mind so as to grow in wisdom and compassion (Luke 2:19, 51).
In this fullness of grace, then, Mary’s “yes” and life becomes for us the model of Christian living for all ages. Her humble and generous service mirrors a life lived for others, and exemplifies genuine discipleship. It is Mary, by the foot of the cross, that reveals the power of faithful accompaniment and maternal care (John 19:25); it is Mary at the wedding feast at Cana who encourages us to do all that her son asks of us (John 2:5); it is in Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth that we see how to rejoice with others (Luke 1:39-45). And, it is Mary’s prayer that show us how to praise prophetically for the most vulnerable in our midst: It is God who magnifies and lifts up the lowly; it is God who scatters the proud in the conceit of their heart and fills up the hungry with good things (Luke 1:46-55).
I suspect that each one of us will continue to find favor with Mary, and each of us will hold dear to our hearts, in our own ways, all that Mary represents. Whether we choose to pray a private Rosary or join a public Marian procession, the fullness of Mary’s grace will continue to show us the way of wisdom. Perhaps, more than ever, our Catholic practices and imagination need to be Marian. Let us, then, hasten to Mary and with confidence ask her to guide us now and at the last hour.
Orozco is executive director of intercultural and interreligious affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.