Not only is Mary the model of the Church, she is also its mother. From the cross, Jesus told the beloved disciple who represents the whole Church, "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19:27). From the earliest times of the Church's history, Christians have looked upon Mary as their mother, as well as the mother of Jesus. We, the Church, are the body of Christ. Just as Mary was the mother of Christ Himself. She is now the spiritual mother of the body of Christ on earth, the Church.
As Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church states so well Mary continues to care for the Church on earth with ‘maternal charity’ or 'motherly love.’ She prays for us, and "by her manifold intercession, continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation."
Imagine Mary watching over the Church over the centuries, in the most fruitful times and the most difficult, continually praying for the strengthening and redemption of God's people. The Church is God's family, and we should thank God our Father for giving the Church a mother to intercede for us before His throne. She unites her prayers, as we all do, with the perfect intercession of the "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tm 2:5-6).
It is important for Catholics to enter into the faith of the Catholic Church concerning Mary's role in God's plan of salvation. This faith of God's people is vividly expressed over the centuries in Christian art, music, and literature. The faith of the Catholic Church in Mary's role as intercessor and mother did not result from a doctrinal definition but from the experience of the Christian people having their prayers answered through Mary's intercession and through the Holy Spirit speaking to their hearts about Mary and her unique role in God's plan of salvation.
It should be mentioned that the magisterium or authoritative teachers of the Catholic Church have also had to caution Catholics occasionally about an overemphasis on Mary or an exaggeration of her status. Some Catholics have mistakenly approached Mary as if she were on the same level as Jesus Christ, which is to make her equal to God. Mary herself certainly gives us no reason to do this, for the whole goal of her life was to exalt God and to point to her Son, Jesus Christ. A true understanding of Mary will always recognize her subordination to God, receiving whatever role she has in God's plan from him. The final chapter of the Dogmatic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI on the right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Marialis Cultus, February 2, 1974) both provide clear and complete explanations of how Catholics are to view Mary, the Mother of God.
Throughout the Old Testament, God brought special messages to His people of the Old Covenant by means of angels, a word that means messenger. Isn't it appropriate that when God wishes to speak a special word to His people of the New Covenant, He often sends the mother of the Church, Mary, to be His messenger? This is part of Mary's role as the Church's mother - to announce the Lord's love and care for His people and to guide or warn God's children, her children, in times of special urgency.
Catholics are not required to believe as a doctrine of faith that Mary has appeared to people and spoken a word from God. The message of the apparitions of Mary are called private revelations which must be judged and evaluated by the public revelation given by God to His whole Church, especially through the Bible. However, certain appearances or apparitions of Mary have been widely accepted by Catholics and have been confirmed as authentic by popes who have frequently visited the places of her appearances. We do not have time or space to speak of all the appearances of Mary, but some of the most significant will be mentioned here.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1531. Only forty years after Christopher Columbus came to America, Mary appeared to poor Aztec peasant, Juan Diego, in the Spanish colony of Mexico just outside Mexico City. The Spaniards had destroyed all the pagan idols of the Indians, but the harshness and misrule of the Spaniards made many Aztecs refuse to accept Christianity. Mary spoke a simple message of God's love and of her love for the Aztec people and asked that a church be built on the site. She instructed Juan Diego to tell the Spanish bishop, Zumaraga, all that he had seen and heard that day. Zumaraga welcomed Juan Diego but asked him for some sign to confirm that Mary had truly appeared to him. Three days later, on December 12, the Virgin Mary told Juan Diego to cut some roses from a hilltop to bring to the bishop as a sign. Amazed to find roses growing in December, Juan Diego cut them, and Mary arranged them in the fold of his mantle. When Juan Diego delivered them to the bishop, he was astonished to see imprinted on the mantle a beautiful image of a young woman with hands folded in prayer, surrounded by sunlight and standing on a dark crescent. The bishop believed and ordered a simple chapel be built by Christmas Day, when the first Mass was celebrated there.
The impact on the Indians of this appearance of Mary was astounding. In their picture language, the image represented a woman crushing the symbol of their serpent god, blotting out the image of their sun-god, and worshipping the true God, whose sign (a black cross) was hung on a small golden brooch around her neck. Using these images -Juan Diego told his people that Mary's Son had died on the cross to free them from the bondage of fajse gods and make them children of a loving Father, to whom she was praying. The image portrays Mary as a merciful mother praying for her people. As the people brought their sick and needy to Mary to pray for them, miraculous healings and miracles began to occur.
The result of this one appearance of Mary was that during the next seven years (1532-38), eight million native Mexicans were converted to the Lord and baptized - more than three thousand converts a day for seven years! Juan Diego stayed at the church for seventeen years, until his death, explaining what happened to him and the meaning of the image. She told Juan Diego. "I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all who live united in this land." The people of both North and South America, with Mexico standing at the centre, have taken this message as their own. One appearance of Mary has helped shape the history of two continents.
The Immaculate Conception, 1858, Lourdes. There have been more appearances of Mary reported in the last one hundred and fifty years than at any other time in the Catholic Church's history. It seems that God had some important things to speak to the Church in our day. What is significant about Mary's appearance to a fourteen-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, near Lourdes, France, is that Mary revealed to Bernadette a title that had been confirmed by an infallible statement of Pope Pius IX four years earlier. Mary told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Young Bernadette repeated these words to a trusted friend without even understanding what they meant, not knowing that it referred to the special privilege granted by God to Mary to be conceived without original sin, given in view of her future role of bearing God's Son in her womb. A spring of water that miraculously appeared at the site of Mary's appearances to Bernadette had been a source of thousands of medically verified healings that have occurred at Lourdes and elsewhere that this water has been taken. This is another sign of Mary's motherly care and of her power to intercede on behalf of God's people.
Our Lady of Fatima, 1917. Our Lady of Fatima appeared to Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco at Fatima, Portugal, six times from May 13, 1917 to October 13, 1917. She gave them a message to be delivered to the faithful everywhere. She told them that men must stop sinning and return to God. She told us we must pray the Rosary every day and that we must fulfil the duties of our state in life day by day.
In the apparition of July 13, 1917, Mary revealed that her Son wishes to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart and that if this wish is complied with Russia will be converted and there will be peace in the world. If not, she said, a second world war would break out during the pontificate of Pius XI, and Russia would spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church.
Later, in an apparition to one of the children, Lucy, on June 13, 1929, Our Lady made the request concerning the consecration of Russia more explicit, saying, "God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means."
The promise made by Our Lady at the end of July, 1917, apparition, still holds true: "But in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and it will be converted and sometime of peace will be granted to humanity."
We must understand that the most important point of the appearances of Mary is not predictions of the future. The basic message of Our Lady at Fatima is the urgent need of prayer, penance, fasting, and conversion of heart to bring peace to the world and to lead all nations, and Russia in particular, to faith in Jesus Christ. She does add to this basic gospel message one other truth that Catholic Christians already know: Mary, through her loving, Immaculate Heart, is a powerful intercessor whom God has appointed to pray for the conversion of the nations to her Son.
In connection with this responsibility as a powerful intercessor, Mary has instituted the prayer of the rosary, as a powerful prayer. In all her apparitions, Mary requested the daily praying of the rosary. In praying the rosary, in particular, Catholic Christians draw closer to Christ and call on Mary to pray for us and for the conversion of all peoples.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in discussing the message of Fatima in 1984, said: A stern warning has been launched from that place that is directed against the prevailing frivolity, a summons to seriousness of life, of history, to the perils which threaten humanity, it is that which Jesus himself recalls very frequently, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:3). Conversion - and Fatima fully recalls it to mind - is a constant demand of Christian life (The messages of Fatima only re-confirmed the urgency of penance, conversion, forgiveness and fasting).
Mary's appearances are another sign of God's presence with His people, the Church. The belief that God has sent our mother, Mary, to speak His truth to us and to give us particular guidance for today should convince us that God is truly watching over the caring for us, His people.
It is worthy of note that the appearances of Mary are always made to God's "little ones" (the anawim), either to the young or the poor. Jesus Himself said that unless we become as little children, we will not enter the kingdom of God (Mt. 18:3). We must be simple in our faith, ready to hear God's word and respond to it, if we are to enter God's kingdom. Mary's appearances all illustrate and support this gospel truth.
In whatever way God speaks to us by the Holy Spirit, our responsibility is to listen to God and his messengers and to act according to His words. The Church will only be renewed and will fulfill God's plan in our time - now - if we hear God speaking and respond to His word. Let us ask Mary to intercede for us as our mother and the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire us as we seek to follow Jesus Christ and do the will of our Father in heaven.
Q. What is the relationship of Mary, the Mother of God to the Church's life and history?
Mary is the most distinguished member of the Church, the first to be told of the birth of Jesus, and the first to whole-heartedly embrace and believe in that message.
Mary has long been recognized as a model or type of the Church. In her own person, she summarizes what the whole Church is and is called to be - a disciple of Jesus Christ. Mary first heard the word of Jesus coming through the angel Gabriel at the annunciation, and she believed in it. She not only bore the Son of God in her womb and raised Him with St. Joseph in His Jewish heritage but she became a faithful follower of her Son right up to His death on Calvary, when she stood at the foot of the cross. With the other disciples, Mary waited in prayer and faith for the sending of the Holy Spirit and was present as the Holy Spirit overshadowed those disciples when the Church was born at Pentecost, just as the Spirit of God had first overshadowed her at the time of her Son's birth.
Mary is a model of the Church because she heard the word of God and did it. "Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother". (Mk 3:35)
This is the basic task of the Church and what discipleship is all about. Some people object to focusing on Mary as a model of the Church because the Bible says little about her compared with Peter or Paul. But Mary's life is actually more like the life of most of the Church - quietly but faithfully doing God's will each day without receiving much attention for it. Mary lived her life pondering God's word in her heart and living it out in the simple way that God granted her to do it. She who was the most humble and obedient of Jesus' followers on earth has become the most highly exalted by God in heaven. Jesus himself said, "He who is least among you all is the one who is great" (Lk 9:48), and "Whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Mt 23:12). Mary echoed this in her prayer, the Magnificat, "because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward ail generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name". (Lk 1:48-49)
Like Mary, the Church is called to be faithful and obedient servant of God. Whatever good exists in the Church we attribute not to our own merits but to God, for "he who is mighty has done great things for us, and holy is his name". The Church is to model itself upon Mary's faithful following of her Son, Jesus Christ. bring us to her Son who will also have mercy on us, who is our Mediator with God, Our Father.
Because of the role Mary had to play as described above, it was therefore very necessary that she should be in heaven, hence her, Glorious Assumption, body and soul into heaven. This is our faith, our Catholic Faith. We accept it wholeheartedly without any hesitation.
As Catholics we have no doubt at all in our minds about the authenticity of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to a number of people especially at Lourdes in France, and Fatima in Portugal, because of our believe in the fact that Mary is in heaven through her Glorious Assumption. We believe that Mary, as a merciful mother for all mankind, has always been concerned with our welfare and the affairs in the world, especially in our relationship with our God. Therefore she is always not happy whenever we sin against our God.
In the early thirteenth century there were so much sin and heresies going on in Europe, and infact in the whole world. In her role as our intercessor, Mary appeared to St. Dominic at Toulouse in France, in the year 1214. St. Dominic had then taken upon himself to pray and to do penance and sacrifice for the conversion of sinners. This is what Our Lady told him: "I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter, which is the foundation stone of the New Testament. Therefore, if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter." Her Psalter is the Holy Rosary, that she gave to him. St. Dominic devotedly preached the Rosary and used it as a powerful weapon to crush the Albigensian heresy then going on in France. He became the founder and patriarch of a great religious order. Today the Holy Rosary has become a very powerful tool in the hands of many Catholics.
The history of the Church bears ample testimony to the power of the Rosary; for example, the defeat of the forces which threatened to invade Europe in the naval battle of Lepanto on 7th October 1571, and the victories gained over the same army at Temestar, near Belgrade in Hungary, also in the year 1716.
On May 13th, 1917, while the First World War was raging on in Europe, Mary again appeared to three shepherd children at Fatima in Portugal, and proclaimed the urgent need for prayer and sacrifice, especially the praying of the Holy Rosary. One of the three shepherd children, Lucia, is alive today who bears a living and personal testimony to this apparition in a number of books that she has written.
For six consecutive months Mary appeared to these children, Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia. She stressed, in all these apparitions, the need for the praying of the Rosary, and urged them to tell the world that if more people learn to pray the Rosary daily communism will be crushed, Russia will be converted and there will be peace in the world. "Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them". (Matt 7:20).
This prophecy has been fulfilled in our own lifetime in 1989. Soviet Union has disintegrated, and Russia has now been converted. "Praise God, praise the living Jesus and honour to His Virgin Mother, Mary, Queen of Peace". Amen.
PEACE? Today Peace moves are frantically going on all over the world where there has not been peace, especially in Israel and Palestine, Liberia and others. We hope and pray that there will be perfect peace in the world in the very near future. Thanks to the increasing, number of Catholic Christians who are now praying the Rosary daily.
I am quite sure that freethinkers, agnostics, and other ultra-critical people in the world today, will no doubt question the truth of what I have tried to explain in this discourse, in the same way that they have always questioned most things with the plea that "they are not found in the Bible" or have no biblical basis. Nevertheless the facts put forward in this article are such that any reasoning person should understand our point of view.
However, we are encouraged by the fact that there are three different kinds of faith by which one believes whatever stories one hears.
In which case as Christians, if indeed we are worth the title Christians, then we must neither be too credulous nor too critical but must endeavor to steer the mid way in all things, in order to find just where the truth and virtue lie. On the other hand, charity leads us to believe all that is not contrary to faith or morale, as St. Paul told the Corinthians, and which, even is more relevant to us today: "Love is always patient and kind it is always ready to endure whatever comes". (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
In the same way pride causes us to doubt even well authenticated stories with the same old excuse: "It is not in the Bible". Remember pride is one of the devil's traps and it is through pride that Lucifer, an angel of God, was thrown out of heaven, out of the presence of God. Heretics in the past denied Tradition, fell into this trap of pride, and no doubt over - critical people of today are falling into it without realising it. People with such pride refuse to believe whatever they do not understand or whatever is not to their liking, simply because of their own spiritual pride. (Jude 1:10)
With regard to the fact that there are three different kinds of faith, by which one believes a story that one hears, divine, human and pious, it will be a fruitless attempt for anybody to criticise the faith one has embraced. Keep to whatever faith you hold, do not say mine is better than yours; do not judge for judgement belongs to God alone. (Lk. 6:37)
Now finally shall we try to answer the following question put forward by my dear brother Willie Ansah and the question is this:-
"But the crucial question however, the million-dollar question is WHY SHOULD ANY SANE CHRISTIAN PRAY TO THE VIRGIN MARY WHEN HE COULD AND SHOULD PRAY DIRECT TO JESUS CHRIST?" (Emphasis mine)
I have explained earlier elsewhere in this article, the Catholics stand with regard to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is OUR MOTHER and we HONOUR AND GIVE HER THE FITTING RESPECT DUE HER AS THE MOTHER OF JESUS AND OUR MOTHER. WE ask her to pray and to intercede for us before her SON WHO IS GOD. I do not think that there is anything wrong for anybody to ask somebody to pray for him or her, or to ask for somebody to intercede for him or her.
In 1989 the World Almanac issued the following statistics:
Therefore Other Non-Catholic Population - 755 Million
Vatican City has reported in the Statistical Year book that the World's Catholic population has increased to 989.4 million in 1995. This statistic office has estimated extra 4.6 million living in China and North Korea where government restrictions prevent reporting to Vatican. The total world population now stands at about 5 billion.
Now looking at the above figures, one will conclude from the question by Mr. Willie Ansah, that 945 million people, almost 1/5 of the world's population are e ' NOT SANE CHRISTIANS, because these 945 million people in the world profess the same Catholic faith: that is:
The world must then be in TROUBLE. Perhaps it is the 755 million people from the other religious denominations who are "SAVE". But the 755 million people are made up of Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals etc. The number of the small fraction of the "Pentecostals" who are asking this "million-dollar" question may constitute only a very small fraction of the 755 million group.
The figures quoted above show a very fair distribution of the membership of these religious groups. It would therefore be foolhardiness for any single religious group to claim to be better or claim to know better than any other group of Christians. As I have quoted earlier, may I repeat it once more: - "do not judge for judgment belongs to God alone". "Blame not before thou hast examined the truth".