Hail Mary: A Marian Book of Hours
William G. Storey
Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2002

For well over a thousand years, some type of a "Marian Office" (The Little Office, the Primer) has been the vehicle for encouraging Marian devotion, and such collections have provided a more accessible and less bulky way of participating in the Church's office of prayer.  This Marian Book of Hours includes those psalms, Scripture readings, and prayers which through the centuries have been given a Marian interpretation and have nourished daily prayer.  For Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, seasonal offices and readings are provided.  It is a useful resource for individuals and groups.  It is unfortunate that no material from The Collection of Masses of the Blessed Mary(1986) is included.

Mary's Song: Living Her Timeless Prayer
Mary Catherine Nolan, O.P.
Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2001

Sister Mary Catherine's reflective work introduces us into the world of the Magnificat, which itself is a wonderfully convenient summary of themes found in the psalms and the Gospel.  These themes take on new meaning as read from the loving heart of Mary and her living faith in the God of the Covenant.  As the psalms speak of God's concern for the poor, so in her song, Mary identifies with and gathers together the anawim--the poor and marginalized people of history.

Through fourteen meditations, corresponding to the verses of the Magnificat, the Scripture verses are first unraveled and then inserted into daily experience.  The themes are focused and encourage a wholesome response to God's gifts: life, gratitude, joy, humility, mercy, compassion, remembrance, servanthood, the thirst for justice, the exaltation of the lowly.  The Magnificat's concern with justice and liberation is a recurring underlying motif.  The commentary has a personal anecdotal style, with directed questions and invitations to prayer.  One leaves the work strengthened by the gentle lessons in prayer so well presented in Mary's Song.

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The Hail Mary: A Verbal Icon of Mary.
Nicholas Ayo, C.S.C.
Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994.

The Hail Mary has been part of the prayer life of the Western Church since the eleventh century.  Two lines of St. Luke's Gospel--The Annunciation, and the Visitation verses (Lk. 2:26 and 2:41)--were joined to form the first part of the prayer.  The second part--invocation of the "Mother of God" and the request for her intercession--was derived from the popular litanies. the text was given its present form in 1569 when it appeared in the Breviary of Pius V.

In the Gospel's introduction to the Our Father, Christ's admonition that we should not simply repeat works but live the spirit of the prayer may occasionally cause us to take time to reflect on this prayer.  Similarly, the words of the Hail Mary, especially since they are so frequently repeated as part of the Angelus and the Rosary merit our reflective consideration.  Father Ayo's book is a guide for this endeavor.

The first part of the book deals with the origins and history of the Hail Mary, and the third part provides a number of classical and contemporary commentaries on this prayer--from St. Cyril of Alexandria to Sr. Agnes Cunningham.  In the central portion, each of the phrases of the Hail Mary is explored and used as a springboard to discuss larger issues of prayer and Marian devotion.

Father Ayo capably handles the historical and exegetical materials, but at the same time he is aware of the difficulties which surface when some reflect on the works of this prayer.  Do certain traditional images contribute to a misunderstanding rather than clarification of Mary?  Should not God's assistance rather than Mary's be sought at the crucial moment of death?  What is required before one can accept and appreciate this simple prayer?  A beautiful quality of the work is the author's respect for the sensitivities of the reader.  Pope Paul VI wrote that Marian prayer is not to be imposed but presented in such a way that people are drawn "by its intrinsic value."  Similar to an icon, this work conveys a spiritual atmosphere while at the same time serving as a window open to the mystery of Christ and His mother.

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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A Still, Small Voice
Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.

News of an apparition can cause thousands of people to come together.  With the devout and the spiritual seekers, come the curious and representatives from New Age religion, and even those whose confidence in Scripture and the Church has been shaken by the most recent theories.  History shows that private revelations to the saints and Marian apparitions have had great influence within Catholicism.  So, when faced with frequent media reports of new revelations or messages, most Catholics try to take the middle road between skepticism and gullibility.

For those on the middle road, Father Groeschel provides a "practical guide" for discerning visions, messages, and other extraordinary religious phenomena.  Although he wished to provide a more comprehensive work, "the intense interest in extraordinary religious experience at the present time" convinced him that a "concise" work was needed now.

Father Groeschel acknowledges that he draws heavily upon The Graces of Interior Prayer by Father Augustin Poulain, S.J., first published in French in 1902.  In its tenth French edition and the sixth English edition (1950), the work is a masterful compilation of teachings on mysticism, interior graces, and visions.  Similar to Poulain, Groeschel states clear, practical rules and then illustrates them with abundant examples:

  1. Keep private revelation in perspective;
  2. Since no private revelation comes immediately and directly from God, none can be assumed to be totally and inherently true;
  3. Private revelation is personal and can never be used in an unreasonable way or against the teachings of the Church;
  4. Sincere persons, even saints, make mistakes in understanding or reporting revelations.  Examples from the lives of Sts. Bernadette of Lourdes, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and others, are given to explain the rules.
Along with spiritual writers and Church officials, Father Groeschel has reservations about private revelations; a simpler and safer way of finding God, he says, is in ordinary everyday experience.  Drawing upon his own experience and that of friends and acquaintances, he relates events in which there was an unmistakable divine intervention.  He regrets that so many miss the powerful experience of Christ's presence in the world because they are afraid or disinclined to search for him in the poor.  "The only thing I really fear is Jesus passing by," said St. Augustine.  Father Groeschel's outlook has been formed by St. Thérèse of Lisieux who, because she found Christ present in Scripture, the Eucharist, and everyday events of life, could say, "To ecstasy, I prefer the monotony of sacrifice." (The book's cover is an artist's representation of Therese's "mysticism and struggles.")

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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The Woman and the Way: A Marian Path to Jesus
George T. Montague, S.M.
Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1994

Recent years have seen a growth of interest in prayer groups, faith-sharing, and Christian life communities.  But some who are committed to the Blessed Virgin, perhaps touched by a Marian apparition, hesitate to participate in a Marian prayer group because the procedures for these meetings have not been communicated to them.  This book is proposed as a guide or manual explaining the "Marian path to Jesus," and offering suggestions for individuals who wish to take this journey, preferably in company with others in a prayer group.

Father George Montague, S.M., brings to this work his background as a biblical scholar, and professor, his leadership in the charismatic movement, and his experience in the formation of Marianist religious seminarians.  The author's long experience with faith-sharing and prayer groups is evident.  The introductory chapter gives guidelines on the size of the group, the frequency of meetings, the procedures to be observed.  The succeeding chapters are the "steps for the journey," outlining the way for advancing in prayer in the company of Mary. Underlying the "steps for the journey" is the Pauline notion of dying to sin, rising to new life, and advancing in the way of virtue as proposed by Father William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Marianists.  Current phrases like "taking hold," "letting go," and "letting God" convey the traditional stages of spiritual life.

The work is deeply scriptural but also personal.  Faith-sharing deals not with abstract concepts but with the ways, the experiences, and the emotions through which the Holy Spirit leads the individual.  The book can be used with college students, young adults--anyone who wishes the support which comes when faith and prayer are shared.  Individuals who like a map before setting foot on path can gain much from this work.

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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Redeemer in the Womb
John Saward
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993

Catholic spirituality is centered on Christ.  Whereas modern thinking strives to interpret the exact words and teachings of Christ, an older spirituality and theology concentrated on the interior dispositions of Christ--his poverty, obedience, filial piety, resignation--and the events of his life.  These "mysteries" or "states" of Christ's life continue into the present, and the Christian spirituality consists in reliving and participating in these attitudes and events.

Formerly of Ushaw College, Durham, and now at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philidelphia, John Saward presents a rich work of theology, spirituality, and ethics to consider one period of Christ's life--the nine months he passed within the body of the Virgin Mary.  This "work of reclamation," as Professor Saward terms it, brings together "what early Christian writers, Christian philosophy, liturgy, poetry, and iconography" have said about this now forgotten period--the nine months of Jesus' embryonic and fetal life in Mary.  Central to the story is the Annunciation, "the chief feast of the Incarnation."  Christ's birth is the manifestation to the world of what occurred at the Annunciation.  Through Mary's "Yes," the pre-existing Son of God assumed a human flesh and a human soul.  The Eastern writers, especially Maximus the Confessor, insist upon the inseparability of body and soul, the wholeness of Christ's human person from the very beginning.
Christian spirituality does not limit communication to the verbal.  At the Visitation, Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, bears within her the God-become-man who sanctifies His forerunner, John the Baptist.  Jesus' mission of sanctifying others begins even before his birth.  Both Elizabeth and Joseph are filled with reverential wonder at the presence of the divine within Mary.  Elizabeth expresses amazement that Mary, "the Mother of the Lord" should come to her.  Joseph wanted to leave Mary, not because he was ashamed of her conduct, but because he sensed the divine presence within her.  Mary's Assumption is the final transfer of the Ark, the "shrine of the living God."
This indwelling of Christ in Mary's womb is a figure of Christian reality.  The womb in which Christ now dwells is "wide as the world"--it is the Church, the Eucharist, the individual.  In each case, Christ comes trusting and defenseless, present as an unborn child awaiting a birth.
Saward's book is the perfect Advent book--the Advent not limited to the liturgical season.  Caryll Houselander, whom Saward regards as a prophet, saw Advent as a time of darkness, of waiting.  "We shall not see Christ's radiance in our lives yet; it is still hidden in our darkness; nevertheless, we must believe that He is growing in our lives; we must believe it so firmly that we cannot help relating everything, literally everything, to this almost incredible reality."

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M

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