As we approach the month of May, “Mary’s Month”, we look back at a spring 2015 event that honored Mary in culture and academics, and we consider how true Marian devotion is deep matter that engages the intellect and will. The Vatican II document Lumen Genitum (1964) exhorts us this way: “Let the faithful remember moreover that true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues (#67).”
Picturing Mary Graduate Student Conference, March 20-21, 2015
The Catholic University of America partnered with the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, DC in planning an inter-disciplinary graduate student conference to accompany the major exhibit “Picturing Mary: Women, Mother, Idea” (December 2014 – April 2015) curated by Msgr. Timothy Verdon, a prominent art historian and an American priest in the Diocese of Florence.
Professor Miri Rubin (Queen Mary University of London) was the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference, and delivered a talk on “The Virgin Mary: emotion and legacy in medieval Europe and beyond.” Other notable papers presented by graduate students of art history, music and late antique literature included: “Domestic Devotion: Paintings of the Virgin for Private Catholic Settings in Seventeenth-Century Utrecht” by Molly Harrington (University of Maryland); “The Immaculate and the Sinners in Front of the Cross: Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Bach’s Cantata BWV 1083” by Chiara Bertoglio (University of Rome); and “Theotókos Paschon?: The Virgin as Tragic Heroine in the Christos Paschon” by Casey Knott (CUA).
One of our sisters currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Church History at CUA, Sr. Maria Theotókos Adams, SSVM, also presented a paper during the Saturday afternoon session. Her work entitled “Echoes of the Annunciation: the Angelus and a Spirituality of Time and Space Through Hearing” explored the development and rise of the Angelus prayer in Western Europe and the ways in which it became integrated into both lay and monastic spirituality. Her research suggests that the tolling of bells and the experience of hearing this call to prayer in the midst of domestic life contributed to a Marian spirituality of docility to the will of God by recreating and imitating the scene of Mary’s response to the announcement of the Angel. Ultimately, the Angelus continues to invite those at prayer to use Mary’s own words as a way to learning how to hear God’s call in the midst of daily life. (See #40-41 of Marialis Cultus, 1974)
More On-line Resources
Various on-line resources were created for the many events that surrounded the exhibit:
- Honoring Mary: Scholarship, Art and Faith (CUA)
- A Global Icon: Mary in Context (NMWA)
an on-line exhibit of short videos by museum curators and high-definition images of international pieces
- A Guided Encounter with “Picturing Mary” (private initiative)
a devotional and reflective accompaniment to the art displayed in the exhibit; reflections by Sr. John Paul Maher, O.P.
Marian Devotion, Academics, and the Modern Woman
While the graduate student conference was essentially academic and cultural, it was also Marian. When we look to Mary even in an attitude of study, many contemporary and often very personal considerations also emerge such as: “Who is the Virgin Mary?” “Why has she been depicted this way?” “Can I understand and share in the powerful experience of reverence and affection that inspired these composers, artists, and liturgists of the past?” “Is there a place for devotion to Mary alongside rigorous study and the demands of modern life?”
In 1974, Blessed Pope Paul VI addressed the potential objections to Marian devotion from “the modern woman” in #37 of Cultus Marialis “For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary” (1974).
“Thus, the modern woman, anxious to participate with decision-making power in the affairs of the community, will contemplate with intimate joy Mary who, taken into dialogue with God, gives her active and responsible consent,(102) not to the solution of a contingent problem, but to that “event of world importance,” as the Incarnation of the Word has been rightly called.(103)
The modern woman will appreciate that Mary’s choice of the state of virginity, which in God’s plan prepared her for the mystery of the Incarnation, was not a rejection of any of the values of the married state but a courageous choice which she made in order to consecrate herself totally to the love of God.
The modern woman will note with pleasant surprise that Mary of Nazareth, while completely devoted to the will of God, was far from being a timidly submissive woman or one whose piety was repellent to others; on the contrary, she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions (cf Lk. 1:51-53).
The modern woman will recognize in Mary, who “stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord,”(104) a woman of strength, who experienced poverty and suffering, flight and exile (cf. Mt. 2:13-23). These are situations that cannot escape the attention of those who wish to support, with the Gospel spirit, the liberating energies of man and of society.
And Mary will appear not as a Mother exclusively concerned with her own divine Son, but rather as a woman whose action helped to strengthen the apostolic community’s faith in Christ (cf. Jn. 2:1-12), and whose maternal role was extended and became universal on Calvary.(105) These are but examples, but examples which show clearly that the figure of the Blessed Virgin does not disillusion any of the profound expectations of the men and women of our time but offers them the perfect model of the disciple of the Lord: the disciple who builds up the earthly and temporal city while being a diligent pilgrim towards the heavenly and eternal city; the disciple who works for that justice which sets free the oppressed and for that charity which assists the needy; but above all, the disciple who is the active witness of that love which builds up Christ in people’s hearts.”
(102) II Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 56: AAS 57 (1965), p. 60.
(103) Cf. St Peter Chrysologus, Sermo CXLIII: PL 52 583.
(104) II Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 55: AAS 57 (1965), pp. 59-60.
(105) Cf. Paul VI Apostolic Constitution, Signum Magnum I: AAS 59 (1967), pp. 467-468: Roman Missal, 15 September, Prayer over the gifts.
May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, always guide and protect those who seek the truth in the many fields of investigation, and may She be a true model and friend to the modern women of our days.