by Father Mark Goldasich
What did Mary say when the angel asked her to be God’s mother?
In answer to this question on a religion test, one eighth-grade student wrote: “Why me?”
The above story is found in an incredibly informative and readable book called “The Catholic Companion to Mary” (Skokie, Ill.: Acta Publications, 2007; $9.95). It’s written by Sister Mary Kathleen Glavich, a School Sister of Notre Dame.
The role of Mary in the Catholic Church is a topic guaranteed to come up prominently during RCIA classes. It’s also a question that parishioners tell me they are approached about at work or in casual conversations with non-Catholic friends.
So, who exactly is the Blessed Virgin Mary? Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there — even among Catholics. Many folks rely on a knowledge of Mary that comes out of fuzzy remembrances from Catholic school or religious education classes from many years ago.
Because Mary is such a pivotal person in our faith, it’s important to come to know her better. And what better month to study her than this one? October, with its celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7, is one of the months set aside in the church to honor Mary. With Sister Mary Kathleen’s book as a guide, perhaps some of our “dusty” recollections of this remarkable woman can be tidied up.
The author notes early on in her book that Mary is “now world-renowned. She has been the subject of more art, literature and music than any other woman. At least eight times she’s been on the cover of Time magazine, and U.S. postage stamps picturing her and her son are issued every year for Christmas.”
Curiously, though, “[i]n the whole New Testament, Mary is mentioned only nineteen times. St. Paul’s letters, which were written before the Gospels, never refer to Mary by name.”
That being said, where does all of the information about Mary come from? Sister Mary Kathleen writes that “it took centuries after this woman lived on earth for the Church to recognize and formulate everything we believe about her today. Each era brings new insights into and new attitudes toward the mystery that is Mary. Our age is no different.”
What Sister Mary Kathleen is able to do in the 176 pages of her book is put a human face on Mary. She situates Mary in the Jewish culture of her time, fleshes out the scant Scriptural stories that we have about Mary, and helps readers understand the importance of the annunciation, the visitation, and the nativity. In short, she presents Mary as someone you really want to get to know and helps people realize why Mary is proposed as a model for our own journey of faith.
The book includes traditional Marian prayers, a chapter on the rosary, and a section discussing the vast array of Marian devotions — from scapulars and Miraculous Medals to Mary’s Gardens and May altars to First Saturdays and May crownings.
And Sister Mary Kathleen has lists — lots and lots of lists. For example, can you name: the feasts honoring the Blessed Virgin in the church’s liturgical calendar; the seven sorrows of Mary; recent church documents on Mary; her seven joys; the variations on the rosary?
The volume presents informational boxes on the various titles of Mary: as Theotokos (Mother of God), Our Lady of Aparecida, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and Our Lady of La Vang, to name just a few.
If that weren’t enough, the book also includes in the margins of almost every page even more Marian information: quick quotes, short prayers, Web sites, trivia, Holy Land sites, and exercises for “spiritual health.”
The back cover of the book offers a subtle, but helpful, hint for readers. It says the book is a “lifetime” companion for Catholics. That means to read this book a little bit at a time. If you do what I did — devour it in one sitting — your brain will be as overwhelmed as mine is right now with all that Sister Mary Kathleen was able to pack into this short book!
Why should we honor Mary and seek to follow her example? Sister Kathleen proposes a healthy and attractive answer: “If Mary is our mother, it follows that she will move heaven and earth to see that we are safe and happy. Her main goal is to draw us closer to Christ and his way of life. She knows that only this will bring lasting peace on earth and joy to our hearts.”
If you’re tired of being like that eighth-grader and wondering why Mary has such a prominent role in our spiritual lives, pick up this book, ponder its points in your heart, and wonder no more.