Mary, Mary, quite extraordinary

Why pray to Mary? Why not go directly to God? For those who didn’t grow up with a devotion to Mary or a within a church culture that emphasized the rosary or celebrated an annual May crowning, the Catholic emphasis on Mary may be confusing. May, traditionally a month to honor Mary, can be a time to take a look at Marian traditions and try on a few to see if they fit.

Appearances of Mary throughout the ages: Much of current devotion to Mary has its root in her various appearances to “regular” people throughout the centuries—many of whom are now considered saints. In most of these appearances, called apparitions, a person or a small group of people report seeing Mary, who invites them to greater prayer and devotion to Jesus. (Catholics are not obliged, however, to believe in Marian apparitions.)

Mary’s appearance to three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917 spurred a renewal in praying the rosary, for example. A shrine near Green Bay, Wisconsin was recently recognized by the local bishop as an official site of a Marian apparition—to a Belgian immigrant in 1859. Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531, as Our Lady of Guadalupe, is at the heart of the devotion to Mary among many Mexican and Mexican American Catholics.

There have been hundreds of reports of Marian apparitions in the 20th century alone. While only eight cases so far have been officially sanctioned by the church to have a supernatural character, many of the reports have led to an increase in Marian devotion in the communities where they have occurred.

Asking Mary for intercession: Catholics do not pray to Mary as we pray to God. Rather, we ask Mary to pray with us, or for us. We know that Mary is a saint, and, as such, she is in heaven with God. Those with a relationship with Mary often regard her as a close, trusted friend who will join them in prayer. Carol, mother of two boys and two girls ages 7 to 14, says: “I often ask for her intercession in parenting issues, especially in dealing with the boys—after all, she had a boy. In the same way I would ask a friend to pray for something, I ask Mary to pray for whatever it is I’m concerned about. But the difference is I know Mary is in heaven, so when she prays, I believe it’s a stronger prayer.”   …continued next week

—by Annemarie Scobey  from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 and 2011 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

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