In the Catholic Church it is believed that prayers, honor and devotion to the ultimate intercessor, the Blessed Mother, lead one to grow in love for Christ, and therefore God. There are countless prayers to be spoken, medals to be worn and candles to be lit before her statues.
For some it is the connection with Mary’s motherhood that brings them to her feet. Many a weary mother has knelt before an image of Mary and begged for guidance for her own children. For others it is the countless miracles attributed to her intercession — health regained, souls converted, broken marriages repaired and even wars won — that demand their admiration. For many more, it is her unwavering submission to the will of God that is her greatest legacy.
Certainly the apparitions and manifestations of Mary, some approved by the church and others more on the fringe — and some even for sale on e-bay — have made known her presence in the modern world.
Marian devotion can be as simple as a child nightly praying the Hail Mary and as enigmatic as the perpetual recitation of the rosary before the Blessed Sacrament practiced by the Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary at the monastery in Syracuse. The innocence of a child praying is one image; the image of cloistered nuns with heads bowed in prayer 24/7 is another — undoubtedly both please the Blessed Mother.
Not only is there devotion to Mary, but there is also a strong recurring theme of her playing a role in the lives of the faithful. So many people can share stories of praying the rosary daily and feeling peace and joy in doing so. Countless others tell of sending their intentions to Mary knowing she will bring them to her Son.
On the fourth floor of the chancery — the same floor is home to the marriage tribunal offices — there is a quiet room devoted to the Blessed Mother. Since last fall, a handful of women who work for the diocese in varying capacities have been gathering in the small room at 8 a.m. every Wednesday to recite the rosary. They pray for each other, for the intentions sealed in a decorated box, for the world, and this month especially for the unborn. They call their little devotion the chancery’s “best kept secret.” On a sunny day the room is flooded with light and the plants placed around the statue of Our Lady of Fatima are thriving.
Barbara Reiter works in the tribunal office and she is a 10-year cancer survivor. She attributes her recovery to the Blessed Mother. “I wouldn’t have gotten through everything without her,” Reiter said.
When another member of the tribunal staff landed in the hospital with a life-threatening infection, the rosary group came together more frequently than the usual Wednesdays. Their prayers were steady and, within a relatively short time, the staff member recovered fully.
Sharene Titus works in the Catholic Schools Office. She is a convert, celebrating one year as a Catholic as of Pentecost Sunday this year. Her love of the Blessed Mother was part of her upbringing. “She was recognized as the Mother of Jesus in our household when I was growing up,” Titus said. “We always admired Mary. Now I say my rosary and I look at her as if she is my heavenly mother.”
A visit to the devotional room is a wonderful way to start the day, according to Titus.
“It brings me a sense of peace. No matter how I feel in the morning, when I go up there, it sets the pace for the rest of the day,” she said.
Mary Batuk and Barbara Pusz work in the chancery providing secretarial support to many diocesan offices. They, too, find themselves at peace when they take part in the Wednesday morning rosary. The quick recovery of their friend from the tribunal office was affirmation of the miracles the Blessed Mother has worked in their own lives.
“Especially as a mother, I feel she is someone I can turn to,” Pusz said.
Through the ages popes have defined and refined Mary’s role in the church. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Marialis Cultus, an exhortation on the right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was written in 1974. He wrote that Mary holds a “singular place” within the church. The faithful’s understanding of her role has led to better appreciation and respect for God’s plan, the encyclical explains.
Pope Paul wrote, “She is held up as an example to the faithful rather for the way in which, in her own particular life, she fully and responsibly accepted the will of God (cf. Lk 1:38), because she heard the word of God and acted on it, and because charity and a spirit of service were the driving force of her actions. She is worthy of imitation because she was the first and the most perfect of Christ’s disciples.”
The church’s veneration and recognition of the Blessed Mother and her significance goes beyond papal encyclicals. It also involves religious orders devoted to various aspects of Mary.
The Dominican order, or the Order of Preachers (OP), celebrates its 800th anniversary this year. Founded by Dominic of Osma (Spain) who spent his life devoted to rigorous preaching to combat the heresy he was confronted with during his many travels, the Dominican order was granted approval by Pope Honorius III after first establishing religious communities in 1207. Then, in the late 1800s a Dominican priest, Father Damien-Marie Saintourens, founded a contemplative order for women whose primary focus is perpetual recitation of the rosary before the Blessed Sacrament. Their fidelity to the rosary and the Blessed Mother continues to be an intercessary prayer to God for the whole world.
Sister Mary Augustine, OP, celebrated her 50th jubilee as a Dominican Nun of the Perpetual Rosary a year ago. She doesn’t feel the rosary is a devotion so much to be recited, as it is to be lived.
“While praying the beautiful prayers and contemplating the eternal mysteries of Jesus’ and Mary’s life and love of sacrifice and humility, one becomes in joy, and through God’s grace, immersed and truly living the mysteries,” Sister Augustine said.
The sisters nourish a deep and tender love for Mary, the Mother of God, she said. In fact, Sister Augustine’s own vocation came after her trip to Lourdes. Having enlisted in the Navy during World War II, she was serving the Army in a civilian capacity as a secretary after her time in the Navy. She said she traveled all over Europe and a vocation to religious life had never really entered her mind. Sister Augustine went on the pilgrimage to Lourdes with a friend after having seen a small advertisement about the trip in Stars & Stripes, the Army newspaper. After arriving at Lourdes, Sister Augustine and her traveling companion hurried to the grotto. They prayed at the grotto for a long time and afterwards her friend confided that he felt called to the priesthood.
“That made me wonder, how does it feel to have a ‘calling’?” Sister Augustine explained. Her life would never be the same. She resigned her position and went back home to the U.S. She attended daily Mass and continued her love of the rosary. “Nothing was the same after Lourdes,” she said.
Sister Augustine’s life had been full with frequent opportunities for ski trips and mountain climbing and yet, after Lourdes, it felt empty. She joined the Dominicans in Syracuse in 1956 and has found complete peace and joy there.
It was the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb. 11, when Father Damien Marie spent an all night vigil at the grotto at Lourdes where he was inspired to form a branch of the Dominican nuns to pray the rosary perpetually.
“By carrying the rosary deep in our hearts and life each day, we are living the mysteries of life, death, resurrection and light,” Sister Augustine said.
The cloistered nuns pray the rosary, contemplating the life and death of Mary’s Son, Jesus Christ, over and over and over. It is through this fervent practice that they hope to gain souls for heaven and peace for all the earth — a truly great undertaking, hopefully made possible by their devotion to the Blessed Mother.