Mary Woman of Nazareth:
Biblical and Theological Perspectives

Edited by Doris Donnelly
Mahwah, NY: Paulist Press, 1989

The papers in this book were part of a Marian Year Symposium at St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN.  The quality of the essays confirms Doris Donnelly's observation that the "dormition of the Virgin" which occurred after Vatican Council II has given way to a gradual emergence of Mary, this time within a context of balanced theology and piety based on scriptural, patristic, and biblical roots and conscious of pastoral and ecumenical implications.

The keynote address, Anne Carr's "Mary, Model of Faith," outlines the basis for Mary's ever active and growing faith--similar to John Paul II's description of Mary's "journey of faith." There is a Mary in us all, as all of us are recipients of grace and a call that we are the foundation of all we hope to accomplish.

Elizabeth Johnson presents two major essays, "Mary and the Image of God" and "Reconstructing a Theology of Mary." The first outlines how, throughout much of Christian history, Mary was the female representation bearing images of God which would otherwise have been excluded from the mainline representation of God.  Now elements, previously represented by Mary, can be transferred to a fully inclusive idea of God which would allow a clearer perception of both God's and Mary's natures.  Her second essay presents a portrait of Mary in a praxis-oriented theology through the use of the categories of memory, narrative, and solidarity.

In "Gospel Portrait of Mary," Donald Senior addresses such unconventional topics regarding Mary as scandal and promise unfulfilled seen in the Gospel of Matthew.  Pheme Perkins, in "Mary in Johannine Tradition," traces the tendency to view Mary as a significant symbolic person to the Johannine writings and second-century texts.  In "Mary and Evangelization in America," Vergilio Elizondo writes of Guadalupe as the beginnings of religious liberation. Other essays are "Mary and the Anawim" (Richard J. Sklba), "The Justice Dimension: Mary as Advocate of Peace" (Carol Frances Jegen), and "Mary and the People: The Cult of Mary and Popular Belief" (John R. Shinners, Jr.).

This is the finest collection of Marian essays produced in the United States in recent years, and, for the first time in such a collection, the women contributors outnumber the men.

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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Mary in the Church
Edited by John Hyland, F.M.S.
Dublin: Veritas and the Marist Brothers (Athlone), 1989

This book contains the papers given at the National Congress on Mary in the Church Today, in July 1984, held to mark the centenary of the Marist Brothers in Athlone, Ireland. The papers represent a wide range of topics by Irish and English scholars all related to Mary: New Testament (John McHugh), history of Marian devotion (Christopher O'Donnell), the Marian dogmas (Michael O'Carroll), Ecumenism (Alberic Stacpoole and John Paterson), Orthodoxy (Metropolitan Anthony), Feminism (Celine Mangan and Donal Flanagan), Youth (Patricia Coyle), Liturgy (Brian Magee), the Irish tradition (Peter O'Dwyer), the Marist Marian heritage (Romuald Gibson).

In addition to developing their individual topic, the participants adhered to the theme of the congress--"Mary in the Church Today"--and recognized that what is said today is not the same as what was said one hundred years ago. "We live in different worlds, with different preoccupations, asking different questions from those of one hundred years ago."  John McHugh relates the virginal conception and Mary's perpetual virginity to the New Creation inaugurated by Christ.  In his survey of the history of Marian devotion, Christopher O'Donnell proposes "three axes" to evaluate the vitality of Marian devotion in any one period: Mary's relation with Christ, her relation to us, and Mary's beauty.  Marian devotion is balanced when these three dimensions are present. Romuald Gibson's account of the founding of the Marist family in 1817--envisioned as "one tree with three branches"--religious men, women and lay persons--outlines both the comprehensive vision of the Marist founders and their conception of the role of Mary in the Church. 

The Marists today continue in the spirit of their founder who understood Mary as saying, "I was the support of the new-born Church; I shall be its support at the end of time." Filled with realistic hope for the future, the book continues the thanksgiving celebration begun in Athlone.  It fulfills the expectations of the organizers of the congress who wished to make a "worthwhile addition to the ongoing theological and devotional reflection on the role of Mary in the Church today."

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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The Sacred Memory of Mary
Walter Brennan, O.S.M.
Paulist Press, 1988

The Church holds in reverence the memory of "the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Lumen gentium 55 and the First Eucharistic Prayer).  Father Walter Brennan's book explores what is meant by the Church's "memory of Mary," how one becomes acquainted with the Church's memory, and what the Church's memory accomplishes today.

The sacred memory of any religious group focuses on beginnings, for a group finds meaning and purpose in the story of its origins. Mary is in the Church's memory of its origins; she is part of the story of Jesus and the divine plan of salvation.

Recovering the authentic memory of the Church involves a three step process: 1) critique--determining who are the authentic witnesses of the memory; 2) hermeneutic--discerning the original meaning of the events; 3) anamnesis--entering into a prayerful encounter with this living memory.  Just as members of a family assist each other in retrieving their history, so the church's memory comes together from witnesses and documents, from reflection on the meaning of important persons and events of the past.

Those who minimize Mary's role because of the relatively few "historical references" to her in the earliest literature fail to see the significance of the events in which she is present.  The meaning of sacred history lies not in recital of events alone, but in the significance which contemporaries gave to events and the symbols they used to describe their meaning.  Father Brennan's reading of the Gospels and the early Christian literature is that the moments Mary appears in the Gospel (the birth of Jesus, Cana, the Crucifixion, Pentecost) and the symbols which represent her (the meeting of the two testaments, the New Eve, the Mary-Church relation) indicate the extent to which Mary is part of deep currents of the Gospel.

Father Brennan brings to this work not only the knowledge of a Scripture scholar and historian of early Christian literature, but also his interest in hermeneutics, symbolism, literary theory, and aesthetics.  This fine blending of biblical and historical insight with contemporary analysis illustrates that Mary, present at the Church's origins, continues to be present in its sacred memory.

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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The Significance of Mary
Agnes Cunningham, S.S.C.M.
S.T.D. Thomas More Press, 1988

This book was written for those seeking a Marian theology and devotion which is in some way related to their experience and lives.  The plan of each chapter of this book offers a fine lesson in theological presentation. The author first describes a human experience ("Image"), then reflects upon its meaning ("Message"), consults the tradition of the Church ("Teaching"), and finally suggests an interpretation for today's believer ("Significance").

"Image" is the story of an apparition, symbol, or work of art that has had universal appeal.  Examples are the experience of Juan Diego and the account to his bishop about the woman who wanted to be known as "Virgin, Mother of God, Mother of all People," and the history of the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, which became a nation's sacred treasure.

"Message" is a description of the effect the image has had on the lives of people.  The Lady of Guadalupe's complete identification with the Mexican people achieved their conversion, something missionaries alone never could have done.  Or, in the light entwinement of the fingers of the woman and young son in the statue at the Liverpool Cathedral, we sense the feeling of the mother undecided whether to push the child forward (for mission) or to hold him back (for the right moment).

"Teaching" is a statement of the Church's belief about Mary, drawn from witnesses of the Christian tradition, the liturgy, the councils, and papal documents.  Here, the testimonies range from the earliest Marian prayers to the writings of Paul VI and John Paul II.

"Significance" suggests what the message developed in "Image," "Meaning," and "Teaching" may be for today's believer.  For example, the suffering of the Pieta refuses to let us escape the harsh phenomenon of suffering today.  The dogma of the Assumption evokes a hope that sustains us through the darkest experiences of life.

This is a book of rare sensitivity: Sister Cunningham has listened both to the teachers of Christian spirituality and to youth and feminists who struggle with past interpretations of images.  The book is filled with hope: the images of Mary, interpreted anew for each age, continues to attract and motivate.

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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Stabat Mater: Noble Icon of the Outcast and The Poor
Peter Daino, S.M.
Alba House, 1988

In this book Peter Daino, S.M., shares the story of his life, his work, and the development of his faith.  In the 1970's, he was a member of the Peace Corps and taught English in the Republic of Niger; now, as a Marianist, he works in Nairobi, Kenya, with I.M.A.N.I. (Initiative from the Marianists to Assist the Needy to be Independent).

This book is about exiles and refugees, about the homeless urban squatters.  Because of their homelessness and poverty, these people are particularly vulnerable to the "Master Deceiver" who wishes to deprive them of dignity and hope by making them feel unworthy or unable to change the inhuman situation in which they find themselves.

For Bro. Daino, faith means courage and the rejection of the lie which causes individuals to view themselves as unworthy and unable.  For him, faith means accepting the empowering love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and exemplified in the woman who sang "Magnificat" and stood at the foot of the cross steadfastly refusing to submit to a future determined by oppressive forces.

In reading the scriptures, we frequently transport ourselves to another time.  In this work, however, the stories of the Bible take place within the events of everyday life.  The dispossessed of the Bible are today's homeless and starving.  The homeless in Africa--many of whom have biblical names: Mariama (Mary), Issa (Jesus), Ibrahim(Abraham)--present anew the lessons of the Bible.

In his own way, Bro. Daino helps us recover the image of Mary, proposed by Paul VI, as one who "stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, a woman of strength, who experiences poverty and suffering, flight and exile."  Here, we find Mary as model for "the disciple who works for that justice which sets free the oppressed and for that charity which assists the needy." (Marialis cultus)

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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Mary in the Plan of God and in the Communion of Saints.
Alain Blancy and Maurice Jourjon and the Dombes Group. 
Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2002.

The Dombes Group (Group des Dombes) is little known in the English speaking world, and this work, which was published in French in 1998-99, did not appear in English until 2002.

Founded in 1937 by Paul Couturier, the Dombes Group represents a "spiritual" approach to ecumenism, involving not only discussion of doctrinal matters, but also common prayer and the "call to conversion" addressed to the churches.  Couturier established the Week of Prayer for Church Unity, a practice first suggested by Fr. Paul Watson, founder of Graymoor.

This document on Mary is the result of seven years of meetings, assignments, and discussions (1991- 1998), and it is now presented to the churches for their study and consideration.  The Dombes Group's method is to study a topic, review the Scriptural and historical development, identify the areas of agreement and disagreement.  Suggestions for convergence are offered, and finally a "call to conversion" is addressed to each church--a conversion which involves attitudes, teachings, and practices. 

The first of the four sections, an "ecumenical reading of church history," presents the Virgin Mary of the early creeds and church councils.  During this period there was no controversy about her role.  Only at the end of the first millennium did issues arise that would later cause disagreements.  The second section, the "ecumenical reading of the Scriptures," is a review of relevant Scriptural passages within the framework of the three principal articles of the Creed.  Underlying this approach is the conviction that all the Scriptures are "spiritual" and receive a fuller meaning when considered within a statement of basic beliefs.  The third and fourth sections, "controversies" and "the call to conversion," deal with four points: 1) Mary's cooperation with the saving work of Christ (a frequently recurring theme in Catholic theology); 2) the two Marian dogmas defined in 1854 and 1950; 3) the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary; and 4) the invocation of Mary in liturgical and popular devotion.

Although the Virgin Mary was not the cause of the separation between the churches in the West, she has unfortunately become the sign of separation.  The Dombes work concludes that, "at the end of our historical, biblical and doctrinal study, we do not find any irreducible incompatibilities, despite some real theological and practical divergences. Finally, our entire work has shown that nothing about Mary allows her to be made the symbol of what separates us." (#337)  The work deserves wide diffusion in ecumenical and academic circles.

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