One of the notable characteristics of Catholicism is our great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. To begin with, this is something we do purely at the command of the Lord – “Behold thy Mother” – and at the invitation of the Church, which places the Mother of the Lord before us for our veneration. But as time passes and we come to know Her, so do we come to love Her also. It is impossible not to love Her. And so our devotion toward Her – our love – becomes something deep and spontaneous, like the clear water gushing out of a fountain.
I shall be with you myself, always. I have My eye upon you. I shall grant you many graces
– Our Lady speaking to Saint Catherine Labouré
At various points throughout human history, the Mother of God has appeared to certain souls upon the earth – perhaps most famously to St Bernadette at Lourdes and to the three children at Fatima. She also appeared to a young French novice nun in Paris in 1830 in order to give her (and through her, us) the Miraculous Medal, something I have written about previously.
Those appearances to St Catherine were especially touching, as they had an unusual intimacy about them. When St Catherine was summoned to the Chapel for the first appearance, Our Blessed Lady came walking into the Sanctuary from the place behind the Tabernacle, sitting Herself in a chair near the altar steps; Catherine then knelt beside Her, placing her hands in the lap of the Mother of God. This is something no other Saint is ever recorded to have done. I photographed the image above at that little Chapel in Paris – there are various plaques there which depict the appearances and this one captures that beautiful and motherly moment between St Catherine and the Blessed Virgin.
Such a deep intimacy, coupled with the simple confidence of a little child is – I think – characteristic of the relationship we are invited to have with the Mother of God. We are Her children, given to Her from the Cross by Her own Son, where we were represented in the person of Saint John, who stands in the place of every single one of us without exception.
In the spring of 1987, Pope St John Paul II published his exquisite Encyclical entitled ‘Mother of the Redeemer’. The fruit of the Holy Father’s own long and deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin, this document gives expression to the authentic teaching of the Church and it looks at Mary in relation to Christ and His mystery, Her role as Mother of God at the centre of the Church, and Her motherly mediation on our behalf.
The Pope speaks of the role of Mary, different from that of the Apostles, and quite unique amongst the members of the very early Church; She offers a witness which is unequalled – “She was present among them as an exceptional witness to the mystery of Christ.. Mary belongs indissolubly to the mystery of Christ, and She belongs also to the mystery of the Church from the beginning”, writes the Holy Father, adding that “knowledge of the mystery of Christ leads us to bless His Mother, in the form of special veneration for the Theotokos”.
And in understanding what the Holy Father is telling us, we are doing precisely what God has already done, and as the Blessed Virgin has already commented upon – “all generations will call Me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for Me, and holy is His name”.
To love the Mother of God, we need to come to know Her; and to know Her, we are required to spend time in Her presence, in the same way that it is only through coming to know another person that we might grow to love them.
The best place to spend time in Her presence is in prayer. And a perfect form of prayer in this regard is in the reading of the Gospels – it is here that we ‘meet’ the Mother of Jesus, we listen to Her own words and we begin to see all those “great things” through Her own eyes. And it is here that we meet Her Son and begin to see Him as She sees Him – and equally, we see Her as He does. All of this is the foundation stone for all the Church teaches us about Her.
Like any deep relationship, our connection to the Mother of the Lord will take time in the usual course of things. But we can be certain that as much as we might desire to get to know Her, Her own desire toward us is far, far greater and deeper. Something of this was reflected in some of the words She spoke to St Catherine all those years ago in that little Chapel in Paris – “I shall be with you myself, always. I have My eye upon you. I shall grant you many graces”.
She promises each of us nothing less.