As I thought about how to introduce this series of teaching editorials on our Blessed Mother Mary, I could not help but remember fifty-one years ago this fall when I entered St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia to study for the priesthood.
Coming from a little coal town two hours north, I had never experienced life in a big city. Nor was I used to the large churches. Even the seminary chapel, named in honor of St. Martin of Tours, was gigantic. You could fit two of my little parish churches into this chapel. Naturally, I began to make the seminary my new home and observed some of the practices that were going on.
One such practice was a visit to the Blessed Mother altar first thing in the morning before entering the assigned chapel seat. I noticed many cassocked seminarians walking up the marbled floor and almost sliding into a kneeling position in front of the Blessed Mother altar as they said a prayer. I liked the idea of sliding — almost like sliding into home plate — but, in this case, on my knees ready for prayer.
I wasn’t quite sure what the others were saying in their prayers, but I just naturally began to say my Morning Offering. I learned this prayer in school (I believe it was high school), and it was already part of my prayer repertoire. It began: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you this day…” I had gone to a high school named Immaculate Heart, had attended my parish church named St. Mary’s, and so I was well suited for this prayer.
What I remember first, as I look back a half-century, is that I was very comfortable praying there. It was an easy routine and without over-analyzing a good thing, I have come to the conclusion that I like praying to God our Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit with Mary at my side or, better said, with me at her side. It is a mother-son relationship. I was not so much praying to Mary as I was praying with her to the Father.
I later learned the rich tradition of intercessory prayers, and began to understand why I prayed the Holy Rosary and addressed Mary, my mother, with “Hail, Mary.” It would always lead me to say to Holy Mary, “pray for us sinners.” I was asking that she pray for me — that she intercede.
There is a lot of confusion about devotion to our Blessed Mother Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her titles are legion — Mother of God, Mother of the Church, New Eve, Star of the New Evangelization, Immaculately Conceived, Queen of Heaven, First Witness. When Pope Francis began to speak of our call to be attractive witnesses, I instantly thought of her.
And so did he. At the end of his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, he offers a beautiful prayer to our Blessed Mother which is well worth reading. The final words tell it all: “Mother of the living Gospel, wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones, pray for us. Amen. Alleluia!”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains many beautiful sections devoted to our Blessed Mother Mary, worthy of careful and prayerful study. In a brief paragraph on devotion to the Blessed Virgin (no. 971) quoting from the Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, it states that the Church rightly honors “…the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs… This very special devotion… differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.”
Our devotion to Mary always points us to and unites us with Christ as we are inspired by her pilgrimage of faith and by her as the “Church’s model of faith and charity.” (CCC No. 967)
As I read the Catechism, I could not help but recall my early morning custom of honoring our Blessed Mother by praying the Morning Offering in her presence. This was in the fall of ’63 and, since the Vatican document was promulgated in November of ’64, and there is a time difference in Rome, it may be that it was being crafted through the Holy Spirit’s guidance around the same time. “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”
Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville