Marian Devotion in a Post Vatican II Era

Mariology Society of America President Reflects on Rosary and Our Lady’s Comeback

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, SEPT. 6, 2012 ( «Through this Year of Faith, in the new evangelization of the Church, Mary is the mother who is also the leader of evangelization» — these are the words of Father James Phalan, president of the Mariology Society of America, and a participant in this year’s conference «Mariology since Vatican II,» hosted by the Pontifical Antonianum University and currently under way in Rome.

The 23rd International Marian Mariological congress, which was organized by the International Pontifical Marian Academy, runs all this week, exploring the theme of Marian devotion and theological methodology in the years following the Second Vatican Council.

In addition to his position as president of the Mariology Society of America, Father Phalan is a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross where he serves as director of Family Rosary International, continuing the work of Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton. Over the week of the conference, Father Phalan contributed to two workshops that explored post-Vatican II Mariology.

Father Phalan spoke with ZENIT about Vatican II and Marian devotion in these post-conciliar years.

ZENIT: What did Vatican II contribute to the understanding of Mary?

Father Phalan: Vatican II said nothing novel about Mary. What’s important to realize in Vatican II is its methodology for the renewal of the Church. John XXIII wanted to have this «aggiornamento,» this renewal of the Church, through a return to our sources, through a return to Scripture, through a return to the Tradition of the Church (particularly the Fathers of the Church), and to the liturgical tradition of the Church, to then be able to respond to the needs of the Church in the modern world as we see in Gaudium et Spes.

That same methodology was applied to our reflection on the Blessed Virgin Mary. That did require a bit of a shift because that wasn’t really the exact methodology that had been used regarding our reflection on the Blessed Virgin Mary for several hundred years before the council. That was a bit of a change attitude which, mistakenly, was taken as an implication that we changed the teaching about Mary. We didn’t change the teaching about Mary.

ZENIT: Perhaps there was a time of «silence» about Mary after Vatican II. How has Marian devotion developed in this post-conciliar period?

Father Phalan: It’s true; for those of us who lived through the years after the Second Vatican Council, there was a collapse of Marian reflection in the Church for a variety of reasons. As I said, there was a shift in the methodology, but then there were also other things going on in the world. In brief, the implementation of Vatican II collided with the very disjointed intense social change that was happening in the late 1960s.

There was this collapse in reflection and devotion, particularly in developed countries, less so in the developing world. In South America and Africa, Christianity was still very new; the Philippines remain very strong.

Speaking about the «developed» world, there was a marked decline in Marian devotion, and this still is the case. Marian devotion is not at all what it was 60 years ago in the Catholic Church in the United States, Canada and Europe. But we can see the signs of new growth. There is lots of rebirth in interest in the rosary. There’s lots of desire to understand who Mary is. There are a lot of new movements within the Church that are rediscovering the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, prayer of the rosary, and her place in family prayer especially.

There is still a long ways to go. A part of it is that there is not a whole lot of preaching about Mary that people hear in their local parishes. There needs to be a deepening of Mariological reflection embraced by the whole Church, and particularly by the clergy. In many seminaries, the clergy hasn’t studied much about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hopefully an event like this — this international Mariological congress, and through other events — there will be a lot of promotion of Marian devotion through the Year of Faith. Hopefully those will be moments that will help people again to rediscover who Mary is in the Church.

Paul VI declared Mary «Mother of the Church» at the end of the Vatican Council. Mary is the one who is waiting for us now, as we want to help people rediscover their faith. Through this Year of Faith, in the new evangelization of the Church, Mary is the mother who is also the leader of evangelization. This is a time that we can hopefully rediscover this more, and help these new shoots of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary to keep blossoming forth.

ZENIT: What is the role of the rosary in bringing about this renewal, especially among young people?

Father Phalan: It is really interesting to see how there is this natural attraction to the rosary; it shows that there is something really compelling about the rosary. It’s a sign of our Christian identity. The more we understand it theologically, and the more our clergy and Church leadership really embrace what is really the theology of the Church about the Blessed Virgin Mary as taught in Vatican II, then we understand what the rosary is. It’s a powerful tool of evangelization.

The rosary is so easy to learn, and the Rosary is a way of prayer – a tried-and-true way of prayer for families. There is a power that people discover in it; they may not even need to be able to explain it. What the Popes have really been urging us to understand, repeatedly through centuries, and especially since Vatican II, is that the rosary is a beautiful way for us to come to know Christ. John Paul II said that the rosary is a school of prayer. It is the school of Mary, through which the rosary can be the way in which we contemplate the face of Christ, with Mary. The rosary is about the meditation on the life of Christ. The Mysteries of the Rosary which many people often just kind of pass over – they are missing the meat! It’s like going to a big banquet and eating just the bread on the table and thinking that’s the whole meal. The substance of the rosary is really how Mary teaches about Jesus. Mary brings us to Jesus. Mary helps us to love Jesus the way she loves Jesus and to know Jesus the way she knows Jesus. 

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