Secretariat Report
The Mariological Society of America's 53rd Annual Program:
"The Marian Dimension of the Christian Life"
New York, 2002 Mariological Society Meeting, Riverdale, New York

The Mariological Society of America's 53rd annual program, "The Marian Dimension of the Christian Life," was held at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center, Riverdale (Bronx), New York, May 22-25, 2002. This year's program, the second of three dealing with spirituality, was devoted to medieval witnesses and testimonies of Mary's role as spiritual mother. 

Located in Riverside (Bronx), New York, the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center overlooks a beautiful part of the Hudson River, and the advantage of having a meeting in New York City is the opportunity to encounter the rich variety and vitality of the local church. The Archdiocese of New York includes over two-and-a-half-million Catholics and has many well-established educational, cultural and charitable institutions. This is the archdiocese, which throughout its history has welcomed immigrants to American shores, and which continues to this day with its ministry to many new immigrant groups. 

The opening Mass of the program was celebrated by Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York City, who extended a warm welcome to the Mariological Society and spoke of the great diversity of ministries present in the city. On any Sunday, the churches of the archdiocese celebrate Mass in forty different languages. Other representatives of the church of New York who addressed the Mariological Society were Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., the eminent and "model" American theologian, who resides at Fordham University; Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., known for his appearances on the Eternal Word Television Network  (EWTN); Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor, now Catholic priest, founder and editor of the influential journal, First Things. An afternoon of the meeting was spent at The Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval art, which includes many representations of the Virgin Mary. 

The opening conference, "Mary since Vatican II: Decline and Recovery," was given by Avery Cardinal Dulles. With the clarity and precision which mark all his writing, Cardinal Dulles first outlined developments in Mariology in the period preceding Vatican II. The preconciliar writings of Rahner, Semmelroth, and de Lubac, which recovered Mary's relation to the Church, may have shifted attention away from the divine motherhood. This turn may have influenced the bishops at Vatican II to include Mary as the eighth chapter on the Constitution of the Church (Note: Bishop Wojtyla had requested that the chapter on Mary be the second, rather than the eighth chapter). Perhaps this decision contributed to the Marian decline in the period following Vatican II. The writings of John Paul II, especially his encyclical "Redemptoris Mater", stress the divine motherhood and Mary's motherhood of grace, which is the basis for her maternal intercession. In the post-conciliar period, Hans Urs von Balthasar appears to have transcended the Christotypical-ecclesial-typical discussion by proposing the virginal fruitfulness of the Church as the basic Marian principle.  

Since the council, the Cardinal continued, liberation and feminist theologians have presented new ways of picturing Mary--as mother of the poor, as evangelizer, as first disciple. Whatever approaches one takes in relating Mary to humanity, to Christ, to the Church, to the Trinity, Cardinal Dulles emphasized, it is important to retain the unique role of Mary: "Because she opened the door of the world for the definitive coming of the redeeming God into the flesh of our humanity, she has an altogether singular position in God's saving plan." In  the question period following the conference, Cardinal Dulles was asked how he would relate Mary to the dimensions of the church which he proposed in his influential book, Models of the Church. After some reflection, the Cardinal acknowledged that he was not sure, at this point, how to relate Mary to his five models of the church and that he may revise his typology in the future.  

The second speaker, Professor Mary McDevitt (Stanford University) spoke of two medieval English works, "Book to a Mother," by an anonymous fourteenth-century priest, and Chaucer's ABC - both early primers for teaching reading. In the early medieval period, mothers were ordinarily the educators and teachers of the rudiments of reading and writing. Through various "alphabet games," verses, and rhymes which referred to prayer, good conduct, and God's presence in creation, mothers taught their children both reading and religion. Mary was regarded as the one who instructed Jesus. She was the bearer and the mother of God's Word to us. As mothers guided their children in learning both reading and religion, so Mary guides her children in acquiring wisdom and knowledge of the faith.

In medieval representations, Mary was presented as pointing to a book while explaining its meaning. She was also illustrated as holding the ink well, instructing children how to write the word.

Fr. Charles M. Mangan (Congregation for the Institute on Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life) spoke of Mary's spiritual motherhood in the works of St. John Fisher (1469-1534), Bishop of Rochester, England. Fisher suffered a martyr's death because of his opposition to the divorce of Henry VIII. Fisher's writings on Mary, though not extensive, are found principally in his commentaries on Penitential Psalms. In his commentary on Psalm 37, he speaks of Mary's appearance in a world darkened by sin as the "rising dawn" which appeared before Christ, her Son and the Sun enlightening the world. St. John also referred to Mary as " the mean, the mediatrix, the Mother of Christ, and the Mother of sinners." 

"Two Gifts Are Better Than One: Mary as Mother of Christ and Mother of All Graces in Fifteenth-century Popular Sermons" was the title of the presentation given by Dr. Donna Spivey Ellington, Ph.D. (Gardiner-Webb University). The first part of the title is taken from the works of Jean Gerson who, after asking whether Mary's greatest grace was her physical or her spiritual relation to God, concluded that "Two gifts are better than one." Early medieval writers dwelt on the physical bonds uniting Mary to Christ. Gerson spoke of Mary's body as both the altar of sacrifice, in which the divine person humbles himself to become human, and as the dining chamber in which all of the virtues and graces of the incarnate God are presented for the nourishment of the faithful. Similarly, Bernadino de Busti spoke of all grace as flowing from Mary's womb. "The richness of medieval devotion to Mary created a spirituality which expects to encounter the presence and power of God in the most humble and seemingly earthbound objects, the human body of Jesus, water, oil, bread and wine." Later sermons drew away from the physical aspects of Mary's maternity and emphasized her affective and emotional bond to Christ. It is illustrative of a tendency in the later medieval period to favor a more spiritual and less physical approach to religious matters. It is also part of a movement away from the physical as being an instrument of grace. "To preserve the sacramental economy, the Church should retain the chief focal point of late medieval devotion: the essential connection between the flesh of the Virgin, the body of Christ formed at the Incarnation, and the sacramental nature of the Christian faith.  

"Mother of our Savior and Cooperator in our Salvation: Imitatio Mariae: Imitation and the Biblical Mystery of the Visitation in St. Francis de Sales" was presented by Fr. Joseph Chorpenning, O.S.F.S., (St. Joseph's University Press, Philadelphia). In the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales found "a thousand spiritual particularities that gave him a special light concerning the spirit that he desired to establish in his institute [the Sisters of the Visitation]." Francis viewed the Visitation as an illustration of Mary's active cooperation in Jesus' redemptive mission which began in the womb; the Visitation also illustrates the active and contemplative dimension of Marian spirituality. In the Visitation, Mary responds to a "divine inspiration." She brings Christ within her to John within his mother. "Charity is never idle . . . and the Blessed Virgin was filled with it, because she bore Love Itself within her womb." The Visitation also has a familial dimension: early images included Joseph and Zechariah as participants in a union of friendship, a union of hearts, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, a type of "proto-Pentecost." The Visitation symbolizes renewal and transformation which is integral to Christian life. Mary presents the appropriate response to the varied "visitations" of God which occur in daily life. A gentle person with a practical approach to spirituality, Francis de Sales wrote "Transformation is the true mark of a divine visitation . . . If you wish to know whether you have responded to a divine visitation, examine your works, for it is by them that we know the answer."  

"Miguel Sanchez: Guadalupe's First Evangelist and His Four Loves" was presented by Fr. Martinus Cawley, O.C.S.O. (Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, Oregon). Miguel Sanchez (1594-1674) was the Mexican criollo who, in 1645, first wrote the Spanish account of the oral tradition of the Guadalupe apparition in 1531. Through his many references to the Old Testament, Sanchez' sermons and novena notes locate the Guadalupe events in a larger dimension of continuing revelation and salvation history. The personal life of this great man was quite exemplary. The four great loves which characterized him were the university and civic life of the Mexican capital; his circle of friends; his great admiration for Saint Augustine whom he regarded as teacher and companion; and, lastly, his love for the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.  

A feature of these annual programs on Marian spirituality has been presentations on the Marian charism of religious orders and congregations. This year, Sr. Marie Azzarello, C.N.D., reported on the spirituality of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, the foundress of the Congregation of Notre Dame. The Visitation scene was presented as an ongoing mystery which exemplified the mission of the community.  St. Marguerite presented Mary's life as the model of the consecrated life: "We have no other constitution than the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary."  

Fr. Samuel Maranto, C.Ss.R., spoke of the influence which the personal example of St. Alphonsus de Liguori and his Glories of Mary had on the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). When the early foundation was besieged with many problems and appeared on the verge of extinction, St. Alphonsus exclaimed that "Only Mary could save the congregation." The early Redemptorists regarded the sermons on Mary during missions and retreats as the most effective way of bringing people to conversion of life, and they were exhorted to refer to Mary in every sermon which they preached. The Rosary, the Three Hail Mary's, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help were among the distinctive features of the Redemptorist Marian physiognomy.  

A special feature was a Power-Point presentation from Sr. Ann Marie Harrison, I.H.M., on a Marian invocation, "Mary, Beloved of the Trinity." Sr. Ann Marie was first inspired to formulate the title in 1981 as she was reading the poems of St. John of the Cross. She has promoted the title for the last twenty years. Through her initiative, the title has received the approval of Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore; the late Cardinal John O'Connor of New York City; Fr. René Laurentin; the late Fr. Fred Jelly, O.P.; Prof. John Saward; Fr. Theodore Koehler, S.M.; and many others. Sister Anne Marie believes that the invocation will promote a consciousness of Mary's loving relation to the members of the Trinity and a Trinitarian spirituality which includes the presence and praise of Mary. The title may appear in many contexts--prayer, poetry, music, and art--but it is always to remain a primarily "verbal icon," drawing persons into the relation of love between Mary and the Trinity.   The conferences given at the meeting will be published in Marian Studies, vol. 53 (2002), available in the spring of 2003.  

Thomas A. Thompson, S.M., Secretary of the Mariological Society of America