Mary: Exemplar of Faithful Love for Virgins, Spouses, Mothers, and the Church

By Fastiggi, Robert L. | Ave Maria Law Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Mary: Exemplar of Faithful Love for Virgins, Spouses, Mothers, and the Church


Fastiggi, Robert L., Ave Maria Law Review


INTRODUCTION: JOHN PAUL II AS "MARY'S POPE"

John Paul II (1920-2005) has been rightly called "Mary's Pope." (1) It is not an accident that a Roman Pontiff so devoted to the Mother of God should also be committed in a special way to the dignity of women. The apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem was issued on August 15, 1988, the Solemnity of Mary's Assumption, near the close of the Marian Year. (2) This special year, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was announced on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25, 1987, by means of John Paul II's encyclical Redemptoris Mater. (3)

It is no secret that Mary played a special role in John Paul II's pontificate (1978-2005). His papal motto, totus tuus (entirely yours), comes from a prayer of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), one of the most important Marian theologians in Catholic history. (4) The phrase totus tuus appears in several places in Montfort's work. Explaining that complete consecration to Mary is the most perfect consecration to Jesus, St. Louis de Montfort writes that true devotion to Mary "consists in giving oneself entirely to Mary in order to belong entirely to Jesus through her." (5) As one can see, true devotion to Mary is intended to lead one closer to Jesus, her Son. This is even more clearly expressed in another passage of St. Louis de Monfort's True Devotion to Mary, which provides this short prayer of consecration: "I am all yours and all I have is yours, O dear Jesus, through Mary, your holy Mother." (6) In Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II points to St. Louis de Monfort as one "who proposes consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary, as an effective means for Christians to live faithfully their baptismal commitments." (7)

In many ways, the Blessed Virgin Mary was at the heart of John Paul II's pontificate. He himself believed that Mary provided special protection from the bullet of the would-be-assassin Mehmet Ali Agca on May 13, 1981, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. (8) This bullet was later set in the Crown of Our Lady of Fatima in 1994. (9) In his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II exhorted the faithful to enter into Eucharistic contemplation through the "school of Mary." (10)

In what follows, I try to show the profound link between the dignity of women and the Blessed Virgin Mary in John Paul II's thoughts. First, I describe the theological foundations of Mary as exemplar. This leads naturally to a discussion of Mary as the exemplar of faithful love for consecrated virgins. I then show how Mary is the exemplar of faithful love not only for consecrated virgins, but also for spouses, mothers, and the Church herself. Finally, I conclude with the social applications of this idea.

I. THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF MARY AS EXEMPLAR

John Paul II was acutely aware of the centrality of Mary to the Christian faith. In this he was building on the insight of his predecessor, Paul VI, who, in a homily given in 1970 at the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria in Cagliari, Sardinia, stated, "If we want to be Christian, we must also be Marian, that is we must recognize the essential, vital, providential bond which unites our Lady with Jesus and which opens to us the way that leads us to him." (11) In a similar way, John Paul recognized "the exceptional link between this "woman" and the whole human family." (12) This exceptional link helps to explain why Mary is the exemplar of faithful love. The following theological foundations are also important.

A. Mary Expresses the Finality of Human Existence

Mary embodies the finality of human existence realized in the supernatural elevation to union with God in Jesus Christ, which determines the ultimate finality of the existence of every person both on earth and in eternity." (13) Mary "is the representative and the archetype of the whole human race: she represents the humanity which belongs to all human beings, both men and women. …

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