By Robert Moynihan
WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 1, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Since the moment on Good Friday when Jesus, speaking from the cross as he was about to die, said to the Apostle John, “Behold your mother,” the maternal role of Mary has been a central element of Christian faith and devotion.
The depictions of Mary’s sorrow in works of art such as the Pieta by Michelangelo have suggested a profound emotional truth: When any believer is confronted with great sorrow or suffering, we can turn to Mary, our spiritual mother, for consolation, because she experienced such great suffering.
The great Marian apparitions, especially at Lourdes in 1858 and at Fatima in 1917, suggest to thoughtful observers of the mystical life that Mary continues to “draw near” to the “little ones,” to children, to encourage them and to share with them a message of maternal comfort and exhortation.
Over the centuries, the theological reflection of the Church has come to grant special and particular titles to Mary, to make clearer who she is, and why she is worthy of our filial devotion.
Presently, the Church has proclaimed four dogmas regarding the Mother of Jesus: (1) her maternal role in the birth of Christ, the Son of God, making her truly Mother of God (“Theotokos,” Council of Ephesus, 431); (2) her Perpetual Virginity (First Lateran Council, 649); (3) her Immaculate Conception (Pius IX, “ex cathedra” proclamation, 1854); and (4) her Assumption into heaven (Pius XII, “ex cathedra” proclamation, 1950).
For almost a century now, there has been a small but growing movement in the Church in favor of the proclamation of a fifth Marian dogma regarding the role of the Blessed Virgin as the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity.
On March 25, the Vatican Forum of Inside the Vatican magazine and St. Thomas More College, in a meeting room close to St. Peter’s Square, will invite an international group of bishops and theologians to discuss whether now is the appropriate time for a fifth solemn definition or “dogma” to be pronounced regarding the Virgin Mary.
Years in the making
The movement within the Church for a fifth Marian dogma concerning the Virgin Mary’s role in our salvation is well over 90 years old. The Belgian Catholic ecumenical leader, Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, initiated it in the 1920s, with the support of the then Father Maximilian Kolbe.
Since that time to the present, more than 800 cardinals and bishops have petitioned various Popes for an infallible definition of Mary’s special maternal role in the salvation of humanity. In addition, more than seven million petitions from faithful throughout the world have been gathered by the promoters of this devotion.
The Popes who promulgated the two modern Marian dogmas, Blessed Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) and Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), both acknowledged in a positive way the role petitions from members of the hierarchy and laity had played in their respective Marian definitional “bulls.”
During 2009, cardinals and bishops from every continent have petitioned Benedict XVI to consider promulgating the dogma of Mary’s spiritual Maternity under its three essential aspects as co-redemptrix, mediatrix of all graces, and advocate. This came after five cardinals wrote to the world’s bishops in request of petitions to the Holy Father for the fifth Marian Dogma.
Those signing the request included Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, India; Cardinal Luis Aponte Martínez, retired archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico; Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, major archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, India; Cardinal Riccardo Vidal, archbishop of Cebu, Philippines; and Cardinal Ernesto Corripio y Ahumada, retired archbishop of Mexico City.
Some bishops, particularly in the West, see a Marian definition as potentially counterproductive to ecumenism. Two of the five cardinals who in 2009 wrote to the world’s bishops for this potential Marian dogma, Indian Cardinal Telespore Toppo and Cardinal Vithayathil, archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, have responded publicly to this ecumenical objection by stating that proclaiming the whole truth about the Mother of Jesus will only bring about authentic Christian unity based on a unity of Christian truth and faith, coupled with the renewed intercession of Mary, Mother of unity, as a result of a papal proclamation of her role as universal spiritual mother.
John Paul II used the co-redemptrix title on at least six occasions during his papacy.
Benedict XVI, without using the title, has repeatedly emphasized the doctrine of Mary’s co-redemption or “co-suffering” with Jesus, particularly in his World Day of the Sick addresses and his 2008 prayer for the suffering peoples in China addressed to Our Lady of Sheshan.
In reflecting on the beginnings of this movement for a Marian dogma, it is worth noting that Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926), the archbishop of Malines, Belgium, from 1906 until his death, was a key Church leader in his time. In addition to the heroic leadership he demonstrated during World War I, Cardinal Mercier hosted the famous Catholic-Anglican dialogue known as the Malines Conversations, and obtained the establishment of the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces with its proper Mass and Office. His spiritual mentor was Blessed Dom Columba Marmion.
Here, in his own words, is the daily spiritual exercise Cardinal Mercier recommended. It still is valid today.
He wrote: “I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sense and your ears to all the noises of the world, in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctity of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit), speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him: ‘O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do. Give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will.’
“If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you strength to carry it, and you will arrive at the Gate of Paradise laden with merit. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret of sanctity.”
And it was this submission to the Holy Spirit, of course, which was the distinguishing mark of Mary’s life, especially at the moment of the Annunciation (March 25), when she said, “Let it be done to me according to Thy will.”
Panelists for the March 25 Day of Dialogue will include Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, Philippines, president of the Marian-Mariological Society of the Philippines, Carmelite Father Enrique Llamas, president of the Mariological Society of Spain. Also presenting will be Dr. Judith Gentle, Anglican theologian, author, and member of Our Lady of Walsingham Mariological Society from the United Kingdom.
The morning session will constitute brief presentations by panelists discussing the issue of appropriateness of a fifth Marian dogma at this time, while the afternoon session will consist of a dialogue by panelists, press, and audience concerning the topic.
The Pontifical Marian Academy was invited to participate in the dialogue, but later notified Inside the Vatican magazine that members of the Academy would not be participating. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 10:00 a.m. at the Via Borgo Pio, #141.
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Robert Moynihan is founder and editor of the monthly magazine Inside the Vatican. He is the author of the book “Let God’s Light Shine Forth: the Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI” (2005, Doubleday). Moynihan’s blog can be found at www.insidethevatican.com. He ca
n be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For more information on the Vatican Forum contact Micaela Biferali at: email@example.com