On this feast of the Assumption, Stephen Lynch, OFM, reflects devotion to Mary from his perspective as a former missionary in Japan. The Aug. 15 bulletin of St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City describes the feast of the Assumption custom in many coastal regions to hold blessing of thte water, the ocean.
Jesus, as Savior, stands in salvation history as the universal Redeemer of all, including Mary. Jesus, the New Adam, and Mary, the New Eve were without any sin, either original or personal. Church Fathers like Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyril of Jerusalem explored the mysterious roles between Eve, and the Virgin Mary. Mary obeyed the Divine Will, Eve disobeyed. Eve gave birth to the first members of the human race, Cain and Abel. In God’s Divine Plan, Mary’s function was to be the theotokos, that is, the God-bearer, the mother of Jesus Christ. By extension, Mary became the spiritual mother of the human race, as Jesus implied when he was dying on the cross. He said to John, “Son, behold your mother.”
The Church carefully distinguishes devotion to Mary from worship offered to God alone. Mary is not God. She is human like the rest of us. Only God may be worshipped. Jesus Christ is the Redeemer, not Mary. Mary’s power rests in her persuasive appeal to God on behalf of others. Vatican II warned against two extremes in terms of devotion to Mary: exaggeration and indifference. Today, the extreme of indifference seems to hold sway in a world that has lost many of its spiritual values. God’s power often works through the intermediary of another’s prayers, as is amply attested to in the Bible. Mary is the Christian religion’s most powerful intercessor.
While the human mind has limits in terms of how deeply it can penetrate the actions of God, the human heart has a greater capacity to believe in spiritual mystery that confounds human understanding. In all cultures, roses and other flowers symbolize love and the realities that lie in the deeper areas of the soul, and thus stand as universal signs of caring and devotion. In much of world literature, Mary as Madonna is referred to as The Mystical Rose because of the unique love she radiated to all around her, but especially her love for her Son, Jesus Christ.
Over the last 600 years, the pre-eminent prayer to Mary has been the rosary. Each bead of the rosary forms a string of roses that says, “My God, I love you.” Help me to love and care for others as you love and care for me. Also, the Memorare and the Salve Regina stand as two of the most ancient prayers honoring Mary. Both of these prayers are at least 900 years old.
During the 20 years that I was a missionary in Japan, I learned the power of the Rosary. Historically speaking, the 16th century might well be called the century of the Rosary. While 16th century Christians in the West were praying the Rosary for protection from the Muslim Turks, on the other side of the world, 16th century Christians in Japan were praying the rosary for protection from persecution from a hostile Japanese government. St. Francis Xavier found the Japanese language to be extremely difficult and thus an obstacle to preaching Christianity. Since there was no adequate translators in those days, Xavier turned to teaching the Japanese two prayers: the Our Father and the Hail Mary in the form of the Rosary. The Japanese learned the basic teaching of Jesus Christ through these two prayers.
The rosary became the basis for the new Japanese Christian’s personal devotion, and the fundamental theological underpinning about what the Japanese Christians believed concerning Jesus Christ. Within 70 years of St. Francis Xavier’s arrival in Japan, along with many Franciscan missionaries, the Japanese government forbade the Christian religion under penalty of death. During the next 200 years, all priests were expelled from Japan. Without priests, there was no Eucharist, so when Christians gathered to pray together they recited the Rosary.
Eventually, the rosary became the center of the community prayer life of the Japanese Christians. Mary’s rosary linked the isolated Japanese Christians to Jesus Christ and to the universal Church.
An ancient Franciscan Prayer originated in Latin: “Nos cum prole pia, benedicat Virgo Maria.” — May the Virgin Mother bless us with her holy Son.
— Fr. Stephen, a resident of St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J., is a frequent contributor to both religious and secular publications.