Why do Catholics encourage devotion to Mary?

by Father Patrick Parks

Father Patrick Parks

Around 1997, I was divorced with a minor child. While practicing my faith with a new-found fervor after a disastrous marriage, I still had not come back to the sacrament of confession. This is when our heavenly mother made a reappearance in my life. A love and devotion I had for her as a young child was all but lost to the world but returned swiftly upon hearing her call. My life changed dramatically as God became first in my thoughts and actions.

One confirmation to this new found life was a song that I heard played repeatedly over the next few years. Many times it would be the first song on the radio as my alarm went off or the first song played on the car radio. It was “Let it Be” by the Beatles:

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

The capstone to this life changing “call” was my first Mass as a priest in June 2016. The Gospel passage was “The Widow of Nain,” where Jesus, out of compassion for the mother who has lost her son, reaches out and says, “Young man, I say to you, rise.”

For me, devotion comes easy since I know who is responsible for my conversion and my vocation. For many it is not, so let us take a look at the “why” of devotion to Mary. In the Old Testament, we hear of a beautiful and luminous woman who has the might of a fearsome army ready for war. In Song of Songs 6:10 we read: “Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?”

Who is this woman? We meet her first in the book of Genesis, where God promises us a woman who will be the mortal enemy of Satan: “I will put hatred between you, Satan, and the woman, between your seed and hers. You will strike at his heel and he (the seed of the woman) will crush your head” (Gen 3:15).

Typology is a tool that we use to explain the plan of God that lies hidden in the Old Testament. Persons and events prefigure or foreshadow greater persons and events that are yet to be in the New Testament. Jesus is foreshadowed in all the great men of salvation history—the patriarchs, the great kings and the prophets. King David prefigures Jesus when he slays Goliath on the battlefield, which foreshadows Our Savior Jesus Christ crushing the head of the serpent on Calvary.

Likewise, typology can be used to show that the great women of the Old Testament foreshadows Our Lady. In the book of Judges, we see Deborah, a prophetess and judge of Israel rousing the courage of her people to fight against the Canaanite domination oppressing their freedom to worship God. Later we see Judith giving courage to the men of Israel and calling on them not to surrender while she puts her life on the line in a daring plan that will require her to cut off the head of the Assyrian general Holofernes.

Another heroine, Jael, drives a tent peg through the head of Sisera, the Canaanites general while in battle against the Israelites. Esther, Tamar, Rahab, Naomi, Ruth, and Bathsheba are all strong women who fulfill the will of God for the salvation of his people through heroic acts, some of which, like King David, crush the head of the serpent.

All these women prefigured Mary, the woman first revealed in Genesis, who makes her appearance in the Gospel of Luke at the Annunciation where she gives her “fiat,” her free will assent to God’s plan to bring our savior into the world. She thereby crushes the head of the serpent, not physically like the heroes and heroines of old but spiritually for the salvation of all people.

The hatred between the woman and Satan, between her seed and his, has begun. Who is her seed? We are, according to my past spiritual director and Mariologist, Father Frederick Miller. He says Mary has joined with Christ in solidarity on Calvary, sharing in his suffering and assenting to his sacrifice. From the cross, Jesus tells us and Mary that she is not dying with him. Rather, the excruciating pain that she feels are the labor pains of her giving birth to the new Israel, the new people of God.

By her faith at the foot of the cross, Mary has become the mother of every person redeemed by her son. Since she is our heavenly mother, spiritually speaking, she is the Mother par excellence, and like the strong women of the Old Testament, will be the solid defense of her children and protector of the covenant sealed in the blood of her son.

Go to her. She will always obtain from her son what is spiritually beneficial for her children. She is fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army in battle array.

And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be.

Father Parks serves as the parochial vicar of St. James Basilica, Jamestown; St. Margaret Mary, Buchanan; St. Michael’s, Pingree; and St. Mathias, Windsor.

Editor’s Note: If you have a question about the Catholic faith and would like to submit a question for consideration in a future column, please send to news@fargodiocese.org with “Ask a Priest” in the subject line or mail to New Earth, 5201 Bishops Blvd. S, Suite. A, Fargo, ND 58104, Attn: Ask a Priest.