Must I Pray Only to Mary?

A woman once came to speak to me about some difficulties she was having. At some point in the conversation, it came out that she could not pray to God the Father, but insisted on addressing all her prayers only the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was quite explicit on the point; it was no vague or merely implied thing. I made it clear to her that this was disordered. As she continued to speak, it became evident to me that some serious childhood wounds were the cause; she had a horrible relationship with her own father that had the effect of preventing her from approaching God the Father. I assured her that the Blessed Virgin was there to facilitate her relationship with the Eternal Father, and that in so doing Our Lady could heal those wounds as she grew in a loving relationship with the First Person. But she refused to listen. It saddens me that this poor lady is no longer a practicing Catholic.

While extreme, this depressing anecdote is a practical illustration that the authentic Catholic cultus of the Blessed Virgin Mary cannot be taken as a sort of spiritual matriarchy that prevents the Christian from having an intense relationship with the Father in His Son and through the Holy Ghost.

In a less extreme form, I have detected a certain confusion bordering on error among some who practice Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary in the manner prescribed by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. The nub of the issue centers on this point: Whether one should, in order to practice True Devotion, pray only to Mary and have Her intercede with God, or whether one may and should continue to address himself to the Holy Trinity and the Divine Persons singly.

Just as some questions are answered in the asking, it seems to me that this confusion is dispelled by its merely being articulated. Of course the true devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mary not only may but must continue to address the Trinity and the distinct Persons on the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in his prayers. What follows in the rest of this Ad Rem are seven reasons why I make this assertion. I hope to follow up with a fuller development of how Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary enhances rather than forbids intimate communication between the faithful soul and the Holy Trinity.

First, Our Lord taught us to pray to the Father. The prayer called “the Lord’s Prayer,” the Our Father, is a fundamental part of Christian prayer. In the Roman Mass, the Our Father is recited with a lovely introduction, translated as follows: “Taught by Thy saving precepts and guided by the divine institution, we make bold to say….” It is a saving precept of divine institution, that is, something that Our Lord not only taught but ordained and commanded us to say. And indeed, Saint Matthew has Our Lord teaching us this prayer by way of a command: “Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father who art in heaven…” (Matt. 6:9). So does Saint Luke: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name…” (Luke 11:2). In the Sermon on the Mount, a mere three verses before the text of the Our Father begins, Jesus says this about prayer: “But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee” (Matt. 6:6). What the celebrant in the Holy Mass does as he recites the Our Father is very revealing. As the rubrics prescribe, he looks at the consecrated Host on the altar while reciting or singing the Pater Noster. He is joining himself to the Son so that, in Him, he might dare to call God his Father. Father Feeney used to say that when we pray the Our Father, Jesus holds our hands and prays with us. He is not, of course, praying that His (non-extant) “trespasses” be forgiven; but He prays for and with us, as our Mystical Head, to the Father. Any purportedly Catholic spirituality that renders such prayer impossible — for clerics, religious, or laity — is simply not worthy of the name.

Second, the Church in her liturgy teaches us to pray to the Persons of the Trinity. Since we are considering a particular Marian devotion most closely associated with Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, we can situate this second reason around his own prayer life. As a priest, he prayed the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Latin Rite, was bound to pray the Divine Office, and, at times, administered the sacraments of the Church, especially Penance, according to the Rituale. He did not — nor can we — jettison the Trinitarian mode of prayer that is the treasure of the Church in her sacred liturgy, which exceeds all other devotions in excellence.

Third, the Church has approved, for monks, canons, friars, nuns, etc., a variety of religious rules and the modes of prayer they enjoin, all of which involve praying to Christ and the Trinity. It would be irrational to assert that the Benedictines, Basilians, Studites, Carthusians, Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, etc., should abandon the traditions of liturgical and personal prayer they received from their venerable founders and the numerous Doctors of the Church who were their (and the Universal Church’s) great luminaries. Liturgical prayer demands addressing the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost singly and collectively. Private prayer, in whatever tradition (mental prayer, or the older monastic lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio), also demands that one address himself to Our Lord and often to the other Persons. Saint Louis Marie would not demand the incongruous, nor would he undermine these wholesome traditions — many of whose adherents supplied him with word and example for his own writings on Our Lady. Rather, I believe Saint Louis would say that Marian Consecration can and does enhance all these authentic modes of Christian spirituality and prayer.

Fourth, Our Lady has taught us to address the Persons of the Holy Trinity in prayer. To take just one example: The five Fatima prayers that were taught to the three Portuguese visionaries by the Angel and Our Lady are all either addressed to Our Lord, to God simply speaking, or to the various Trinitarian Persons. While Saint Louis Marie lived and died centuries before these approved apparitions of the Twentieth Century, it entails an absurdity to say that the spiritual doctrine of this great Marian apostle would rule out the recitation of these devotional gems from an ecclesiastically approved Marian apparition.

Fifth, Saint Louis Marie himself teaches us to pray to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Among the prayers that he prescribes in the preparation for Total Consecration, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort includes Jesus Living in Mary, a prayer composed by Father Jean Jacques Olier (1608-1657) and popular in the “French School” of devotion of which Saint Louis is a part, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, the Veni Creator Spiritus, and the Litany of the Holy Ghost. These prayers are addressed, some to the Son, others to the Holy Ghost. With the exception of the Litany of the Holy Name, all the litanies Saint Louis prescribes conclude with an oration that is directed to God the Father. Moreover, as he recommends renewing one’s consecration with the prayers and readings that go with it, the great Marian apostle presumes that the one consecrated to Jesus through Mary will continue to say these prayers. His “short form” for renewing one’s consecration monthly or daily — “I am all thine and all I have is thine, O dear Jesus, through Mary, Thy holy Mother” — is evidently addressed to Our Lord. To this, we can add that the Our Father — a prayer entirely addressed to the First Person of the Trinity — is integral to the recitation of the Rosary, a devotion Saint Louis recommends wholeheartedly.

The Marian typology of Rebecca and Jacob that Saint Louis Marie develops at length in True Devotion stands as a direct refutation of the error under consideration. The account in Genesis tells us that Rebecca dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes, put the hairy skins of two kids on his hands and neck, prepared the meats of those kids, and counseled him to obtain the blessing that Isaac was planning to give to Jacob’s older brother, Esau. In Saint Louis’ reckoning, Rebecca is a type of the Blessed Virgin and Jacob is her client, the recipient of her intercession; that is, Rebecca is Mary and we are Jacob. Note carefully that Rebecca’s actions here were to prepare Jacob to address his father. She lent invaluable assistance to Jacob, but she did not stand in his place before Isaac. She facilitated the meeting and made it fruitful. That is one of the key operations Mary carries out for us.

Sixth, Catholic theology has taught us clearly and carefully about the worship due to God and the veneration due to Mary and the saints. If the devotee to Our Lady were forbidden to address himself to the Trinity, then the entire Catholic apologetical defense of the cultus shown to the Virgin Mary and the saints would collapse, for it depends on the distinction between the cultus latriae and the cultus duliae, of which the devotion shown to the Blessed Virgin Mary (cultus hyperduliae) is the highest species. The idea that we cannot or should not address ourselves to the Three Divine Persons but rather only to the Blessed Virgin Mary effectively dissolves the cultus latriae in the name of the cultus hyperduliae. This would be a deformed sort of worship that plays into a very ugly Protestant caricature of Catholic devotional life.

Seventh, common sense, based upon the analogy of real-life human relationships, militates strongly in favor of praying to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Both psychologically and theologically, the prohibition from doing so is dangerous inasmuch as it makes devotion to Mary not an aid to developing a relationship of deeper devotion to the Trinity, but a virtual replacement for it. Above, I wrote that devotion to Mary is not a kind of spiritual matriarchy. This is true even, nay especially, in the “maximalist” Marian approach of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort and Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe. Mary is no matriarch. Our entire religion is patriarchal in nature and one cannot hide behind Marian piety to deny this truth.

Regarding devotion to the Father, if a child needs to address his father exclusively by means of his mother, then the idea is conveyed that the father is unapproachable and aloof. While this is sometimes sadly the case with human fathers, it is not a mark of good fatherhood. With her feminine and maternal gifts, a good mother can and should facilitate an enhanced relationship between a human father and their mutual child. Translated into the supernatural order, the Blessed Virgin helps to foster a greater relationship between Father and child, but She does not stand as a replacement for such; neither does She become the universal arbiter or conduit of all interactions. While as Mediatrix of grace, She can be conceived as a “conduit,” She is not a mere conduit. Our Lady is not a piece of plumbing or electrical circuitry in the Mystical Body; She is, rather, a person — the highest ranking human person in that Body. In that capacity, She has a unique social influence in the Church, and a unique influence over the intimate lives of individuals in that society — if we but let Her in.

Regarding the Second Person of the Trinity, let us take the example of a consecrated woman, a nun, a canoness, or a religious sister. She is in miniature what the Church is writ large, a “Bride of Christ.” Jesus is her “Bridegroom.” It is incongruous to think that a consecrated woman cannot speak to her heavenly Bridegroom in adoration, love, thanksgiving, reparation, petition, etc. Such thinking is not merely incongruous, but positively destructive of that woman’s vocation. To make every act of love between the consecrated bride and her heavenly Bridegroom explicitly dependent on the Blessed Virgin as a conversational go-between would reduce Our Lady to the status of a spiritually meddling mother-in-law, which would be a vulgar caricature of the august person of the Mother of God.

A similar logic applies to men. While not “brides” of Christ, we are called to partake of a masculine friendship with Jesus Christ. Marian consecration fosters this intimacy and augments it.

Next time, I intend to develop the idea that, because Marian Consecration is fundamentally Christological and Trinitarian in nature, there is no tension but only perfect compatibility between this True Devotion and prayer to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The key, I believe, is her constant presence and involvement in our lives. Her abiding and ever-proximate maternal goodness, beauty, and love serve to heighten our communion with the Holy Trinity. But more on that later!