Kieran Fenn FMS
Because May is the month in which we honour Mary, the reflection on scripture and our response (Articles 22-26) will be held until next month.
The basic aim of the synod was to ‘renew the Church’s faith in the word of God’. It is Mary who, by her ‘yes’ to the word of covenant and her mission, perfectly fulfils the divine vocation of humanity, bringing together the word of God and faith. From Annunciation to Pentecost she appears perfectly open to the will of God. Her obedient faith, open and full of grace (the fruit and meaning of her Immaculate Conception), shaped her life at every moment.
Today the faithful need to be helped to see more clearly the link between Mary of Nazareth and the faith-filled hearing of God’s word. Scholars are urged to study the relationship between Mariology and the theology of the word. Mary stands at the heart of Christian truth; it is her assent that allowed the eternal to enter into time. She is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the word of God, which took flesh in her. She symbolises openness to God and others – an active listening which interiorises and assimilates, in which the word becomes a way of life.
What happened to Mary after Vatican II? There has been no shortage of great writing on her, beginning with Paul VI’s Marialis Cultus and John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater as well Elizabeth Johnson’s Truly Our Sister. But the called for approach just does not seem to be getting through.
Where is the Marial Church dreamed of by the early Marist vision? John Paul II’s reminder to the curia that the Church was Marial before it was Petrine was a call for a far more balanced face to the structures of the institution.
Pope Benedict told the recent group of new cardinals that their position is for service, not for power. Surely it is the service of the Mary of the Magnificat that gives such office its attraction instead of the alienation that comes when an institution mistakes authoritarianism for authority.
Luke presents us with a Mary familiar with the word of God through her Magnificat. There she identifies with the word and enters into it. In words which express her own soul, she praises the Lord in a song woven entirely from the threads of scripture.
Completely imbued with the word of God, Mary is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate.
Mary shows us that the word of God, through faith, can transform us. Our apostolic and pastoral work can never be effective unless we learn from her how to be shaped by the working of God within us:
devout and loving attention to the figure of Mary as the model and archetype of the Church’s faith is of capital importance for bringing about in our day a concrete paradigm shift in the Church’s relation with the word, both in prayerful listening and in generous commitment to mission and proclamation.
Throughout its history the Church has found in Mary its ideal model. Our age is no different as article 28 outlines. A ‘concrete paradigm shift’ is a good way of putting the birth of a new church coming into being, one that will never come to birth unless we stay with the present struggle as its midwife generation or exodus wanderers.
It is difficult living in a time of such change, weakness, scandal and yet, greatness. If we are going to pray ‘your kingdom come’ and mean it, then its instrument, the Church, is coming from God’s future and is not the past or even the present one. It is God’s gift and God’s Church, and God’s word coming into being and Mary has much to do with birth and being.
We, too, are called to enter into the mystery of faith whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives. St Ambrose reminds us that every Christian believer in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God.
What took place for Mary can daily take place in each of us in the hearing of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments.
It is timely to remember that Marialis Cultus called for an approach to Mary that was scriptural, something we share with our Protestant brothers and sisters who are writing some fine studies of Mary in the scriptures. It is to be liturgical, in tune with the seasons of the Church’s year. It is to be anthropological, respecting the human dimension of Mary’s life as well as the changing role of women in society and in the Church.
Little wonder that some of the best writing on Mary is coming from women. It is to be ecumenical, a fine crossover point with scripture and a challenge to make the Marian dogmas we have speak to Christians today.
Mariology requires a sound theological basis; Mary is not an end in herself – she points us to her son. In the words of John XXIII, ‘The madonna is not pleased when she is placed before her son.’
Any truth about Mary is first of all a truth about her son.