Q: Does the study of the "Catholic Mary" necessarily include the study of
apparitions, and why are there so many titles that seem to attribute "adoration" of her?
A: We try to avoid the expression of "adoration" when speaking of Mary, precisely to put up a very clear and sharp boundary between God and Mary. Adoration is due to God alone, Mary--a human being with special distinction from God--deserves veneration and devotion.
With regard to her various titles, it would seem appropriate to stress in the first place the common denominator of all these designations. Whatever the specific "make-up," Mary remains the messenger and facilitator. She conveys some of the basic truths of our gospel (prayer and conversion, fasting), and in doing so she passes on and reminds us (sometimes urgently, with sadness or in joy) of the good news of Jesus Christ. However, apparitions have a pedagogical character, and that is where her function as "facilitator" comes in.
In Jesus Christ, God spoke a human language. Similarly, Mary facilitates the understanding of the central message by highlighting facets of its actuality. As Lady of the Rosary she attempts to activate the memory of the faithful concerning the whole of salvation history (from Christ's birth to his ascension); Lady of Sorrows she attracts people's attention to Christ's passion; Mother of the Living God--as Guadalupana--she points out that all life (Spanish and Indio) has its source in the Creator. The various designations do not so much apply to different Marys as they apply to different (and complementary) aspects of the Christian message embodied in Christ, his person and message.
It would be interesting to point out that some of these designations have a special historical/sociological significance (for example, Pontmain, France, 1870, Our Lady of Hope at a time of bloody war between France and Germany). Also some of the physical make-ups of Our Lady are not due to her express wishes but to a close collaboration between visionaries and painters. Unable to give an exact description of the apparition, the seer is helped by the painter in visualizing his/her experience. Both have their own perception of things, thus the difference and relative subjectivity as to the result. Visionaries are human and fallible. Their sometimes very personal way of understanding the message and the messenger is instrumental for the emerging of a specific designation. They reflect our attempt to put a face on the apparitions and to give it a name.
Apparitions are not an article of faith. They may not be the easiest way to approach the "Catholic Mary." A good introduction to the biblical Mary would be much easier and show that Catholics and Protestants have many common beliefs about Mary.
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