38. After having commented on the recent crisis in devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the overcoming of this crisis (Part I), and having shown the way in which the life of Mary and religious life are so profoundly in harmony (Part II), we wish to continue our reflection pointing out some of the duties which, in our opinion, are incumbent upon local Churches and religious institutes so as to promote devotion to the Mother and Handmaid of the Lord.
      You bishops, our fathers and friends, you fellow religious, and all of you brothers and sisters: please understand us. We are perfectly aware of the fact that ours is a small voice but one that finds confidence in your kind consideration and courage in our common love for the Virgin.


39. Deep knowledge alone permits deep love. We therefore feel that the first task to be faced in fostering the sound development of devotion to Mary among ourselves and among the Christian people is to acquire a thorough knowledge of the figure of the Virgin “in the mystery of Christ and of the Church” and of her mission in the work of salvation. This task is perfectly in harmony with the charism of our institutes and it is extremely useful, if not indispensable, in our relationships with the local Churches in which we carry out our service.
The Father who keeps the secrets of the Kingdom hidden from the wise and learned and reveals them to children (see Mt 11:25) can certainly lead those persons who entrust themselves to him in filial simplicity to a thorough knowledge of Mary. But this is a path which is reserved to the free gift of God. Most of us who are called to bear witness to the figure of the Virgin in a society which often fails to see her significance need to acquire a reflective knowledge of Mary of Nazareth. This can only come about through rigorous and systematic study, tailored to the conditions of each individual and adapted to the various periods of formation.

40.We must be honest: many priests, many religious and many other pastoral workers are still ill-informed both as regards fundamental documents of the magisterium on the Blessed Virgin and about the more significant developments that have taken place in the various areas of Mariology which scholars have calmly accepted for years.
       This lack of information has many repercussions: preaching on the Virgin has not been renewed and has not presented in an incisive manner the meaning of the figure of Mary of Nazareth for contemporary men and women; essential and irrevocable data of the magisterium and tradition risk not being accepted because they are being taught in terms which are no longer current in theological language; the guidelines and prospects set out in Lumen gentium are finding difficulty in making headway; biblical sources are being neglected and people are being nourished by the remnants of pious traditions and uncertain visions; the wealth of our patristic heritage is being ignored and people are repeating commonplaces coined in periods of less theological rigour; contrasting positions based on mutual suspicion are maintained with a kind of “hardness of heart” (the “conservatives” and the “progressives” as was said in the not too distant past) when all that is needed to dispel this is a calm and open examination of the data of Sacred Scripture and holy tradition without preconceived ideas and in the light of the magisterium; the ecumenical movement for its part is suffering delays; there is still the lack of coordination, referred to earlier, between the research of scholars and the urgent needs of pastors; Mary of Nazareth is placed on the edge of life and devotion simply because she is not known.
      We hope we have not painted too gloomy a picture of the situation. As we have already indicated, this is limited to certain situations and to those brothers and sisters who demonstrate a persistent and objective lack of knowledge. But this is still a lack which is too widespread for those like you and ourselves who share a common love for the Church and for the Blessed Virgin.

41. In this connection, we Servants of Mary, men and women, wish to express our gratitude and admiration for those friars who, at the end of the l9th century when our Order was considerably reduced in numbers, so boldly and farsightedly founded the Collegio Sant'Alessio Falconieri in Rome (1896) and entrusted to it the task of fostering studies on the Blessed Virgin. In so doing, they laid one of the most solid foundations for the rebirth of the Order and provided it with the means it required to serve the local Churches and the Apostolic See itself more effectively. In 1901, the rector of the Collegio Sant' Alessio, Fra Alexis M. Lépicier, professor of dogmatic theology at the Urbania University (future Prior General and member of the College of Cardinals) published his Tractatus de beatissima Virgine Maria Mater Dei, thereby restoring the place and dignity of study of Our Lady in Roman scholastic circles.
      Fra Alexis M. Lépicier's example was followed by several other friars of whom we should like to mention Fra Gabriele M. Roschini (+ 1977) who worked efficiently to foster thought and interest in Mariology. It was from the Collegio Sant'Alessio that the “Marianum” Theological Faculty eventually came into being. May we, at this point, express our gratitude to Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI for their paternal concern and encouragement of the development of our Faculty, to the extent of creating the Doctorate in Theology with specialisation in Mariology (7 March 1965) and of honouring the Faculty with the title “Pontifical” (1 January 1971).
      Our Order maintains the activities of the “Marianum” Faculty as its apostolic service in the field of theological research. And the Faculty itself, with its teaching structures, specialised Library and its reviewMarianum which endeavours to make a contribution to Mariological discussions, is committed to “promoting the knowledge, teaching and scientific and pastoral progress of Christian thinking about the Mother of God, in accordance with the Order's mission in the Church.”45 Before the local Churches, religious institutes and men and women of culture, the teaching staff and students of the Faculty wish to cooperate in a spirit of fraternity with scholars and others who wish to share its institutional objectives.

42. It is precisely because of the attention we devote to the study of Mariology that we are able to understand that the contribution of our Order in this field is merely a humble offering alongside that of many other religious institutes. Even knowing that this wil1 be an incomplete list, we cannot fail to mention the work being carried out by the Order of Friars Minor to whom is entrusted the direction of the Pontificia Accademia Mariana Internazionale (Rome); the Conventual Friars Minor who support the Accademia dell'Immacolata (Rome); the Society of Mary (Marianists) who promote, among other things, the Marian Library (Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.); the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who publish the prestigious review Ephemerides Mariologicae (Madrid); the Salesians of St. John Bosco who created the Accademia Mariana Salesiana (Rome); the Company of Mary (the De Monfort Fathers) who established the Centro Mariano Monfortano in Rome and publish the excellent magazine Cahiers Marials in Paris; the Marist Brothers who founded the Marian Spirituality Centre in Belo Horizonte (Brazil); the theologians belonging to the Benedictine, Jesuit and Dominican Orders, the two Carmelite Orders and many other institutes who are present in Mariological research through their publications; the Society of St. Paul whose publications include so many works on Mariology. We must also mention the way in which so many religious share in the activities of the Mariological societies which abound in many countries and who frequently lead them. And lastly, we wish to recall the scholars of the Prelature of the Holy Cross who publish the important review Scripta de Maria (Zaragoza).
      Since we understand the commitment of persons and means needed to maintain these works, we would like to express our admiration and thanks to these brothers and sisters and, if necessary, offer them our encouragement to continue singlemindedly and rigorously with the work which has brought them great esteem in the Church.

43. The importance of studies for promoting devotion to the Blessed Virgin is such that one conclusion is certain: we must everywhere foster the study of Mariology and the institutions which make this study possible at all levels among the laity, religious, and ministers of the Church. “Christology is also Mariology,” said a recent document of the S. Congregation for Catholic Education.46 We can endorse this by adding that ecclesiology and pneumatology are also Mariology.47 Anyone who considers the doctrinal issues relating to the figure of the Woman whom our Eastern brothers and sisters call the “Crown of Dogma” and the pastoral value which stems from genuine Marian devotion knows that Mariology is a discipline which is worthy of the closest attention.

Proclamation of the Word

44. The last words spoken by Jesus to the eleven apostles, “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19 ), indicate not an ending but a beginning: the beginning of the universal mission of the Church. These words have been engraved on the heart of the Church and throughout its history they have prompted, supported and guided its missionary commitment. Throughout the centuries disciples of the Lord, men and women, have felt the urgent need to proclaim the Good News as did Paul: “Preaching the gospel is not the subject of a boast; I am under compulsion and have no choice; I am ruined if I do not preach it! ” (1 Cor 9:16).
      Reflecting on the missionary activity of the Church from our present point of view - the responsibility of religious in promoting Marian piety - we have to emphasise two facts:

        First, the missionary endeavours of the Church presently are carried out primarily by religious institutes. The Church has entrusted this task to them and they have accepted it as a valid expression of their institutional charism. In fact, there are few religious institutes that do not have some missionary activity and many were formed with the primary purpose of bringing the light of faith to those who still live in darkness.

       Second, many missionary institutes have a “Marian reference” in their names; they place their work of evangelisation under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and they openly state that in her they find an example and inspiration for carrying out their specific apostolic service.

      In our opinion, these two facts are significant: they reveal once more how Mary is intimately tied to the mystery of Christ, the primary object of evangelisation, and to the mystery of the Church, the active agent in evangelisation. They demonstrate, too, how the Blessed Virgin in her role as Mother and model anticipated the mission of the Church: to receive and proclaim the Word.

The first to be evangelised
and herself an evangeliser

45. The ultimate reason for which Mary is honoured as the Guiding Star of evangelisation 48 is not devotional but strictly biblical. According to the scholars of the Sacred Scriptures, some gospel episodes contain important indications of Mary's relationship with the Church as model in its reception and proclamation of the Word. Mary is the first person to be evangelised. The Virgin of Nazareth, as future mother of the Messiah and personification of the Daughter of Sion, is the first to receive the joyful Good News: the Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High, will come upon her and she will bear the Saviour of the nations (see Lk 1:26-38). With faith Mary receives this word of the Lord and faith becomes “ in her case the gateway and path to divine Motherhood.” 49
      Mary is the first person to evangelise. The word received into her inmost being breaks out in proclamation, song and prophecy. In the hill country of Judah, Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit and bearing the Word, proclaims the great things done for her by the Almighty and brings the Saviour to John (see Lk 1:39-56). In this episode, some exegetes note a distant echo of the rejoicing at the news of the liberation of Jerusalem: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, 'Your God is King! ”' (Is 52:7).

They found the child with Mary his mother

46. In the episode of the Magi who come from the East to offer homage to the Messiah (see Mt 2:1-12), we see not only the call of all nations to the faith but also the function of the Church following the example of Mary: to present Christ to all peoples and to become a place of encounter with him. It is probable that the evangelist Matthew, when writing the episode of the adoration of the Magi, took inspiration from Isaiah 60:1-9, the song which celebrates Jerusalem as centre of the universe; but in preparing his account he made significant changes; Jerusalem, the City-Mother upon whom the glory of the Lord shines (see Is 60:1-2), is replaced by Mary-Mother on whose knees sits the Child; in place of the Lord to whom al1 the nations offer homage (and who is already the Messianic King according to pre-Christian Jewish texts) there is the child Jesus who receives the homage and adoration of the Magi. In place of the kings and princesses who according to the prophecy “bowing to the ground will worship you and lick the dust at your feet” (Is 49:23; cf 60:14) and the rich merchants who arrive in Jerusalem with caravans of camels “bearing gold and frankincense” (Is 60:6) there are the Magi who “on entering the house, found the child with Mary his mother; they prostrated themselves and did him homage; then they opened their coffers and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Mt 2:11).
      This meeting and adoration, however, do not take place in the old Jerusalem whose leaders rejected the Messiah (see Mt 2:3; 23:37-38) but in the “house” of Bethlehem which seems to be an image of the Church. It is important to note that according to Matthew when the Magi - the first fruits among the pagans - open themselves to faith and encounter Jesus, they also see Mary: “they found the child with Mary his mother” (Mt 2:11); the same thing happens every time men and women come to Christ and enter his house, the Church: they encounter him with Mary his mother.50

The revelation at Cana

47. We have already remarked on the importance of the risen Lord's words to the Eleven regarding the Church's responsibility for evangelisation: “Go and make disciples of all the nations....Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19). It should be noted that these words are spoken within the context of a “theophany”: the apparition to the Eleven in Galilee on “the mountain to which Jesus had summoned them” (Mt 28:16). The evangelist describes the scene following the pattern of the theophany on the Sinai mountain where the Old Covenant was concluded (see Ex 19:1-9).
      In Matthew's mind, the mountain of the apparition in Galilee (Mt 28:16-20) is the Sinai of the New Covenant. Jesus, glorified by the Father, is given the titles and prerogatives of the Lord of the Old Testament: universal dominion (see Mt 28:18b-19a; Ex 19:5d); adoration (see Mt 28:17a; Ex 3:12; 29:1, 9-11); the revelation of a new Law (“... everything I have commanded you” in Mt 28:20a and “... all that the Lord had ordered him” in Ex 19:7b).
      It follows that the commitment taken on by the people of Israel with regard to the Law of the Lord (“Everything the Lord has said, we will do,” Ex 19:8) now becomes the vocation and prerogative of the new people of God formed around Jesus and made up of disciples from al1 nations: “Go and make disciples of all nations....Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19a,20a).
      As some exegetes note, the “revelation at Cana” (see Jn 2 :1 - 12) was also written with the “ theophany of Sinai” in mind (see Ex 19:1-9). It would be difficult not to see the special affinity which exists among the promise of Israel (“Everything the Lord has said, we will do” in Ex 19:8), the command of the risen Lord to the Eleven (to teach disciples to carry out al1 that he had commanded in Mt 28:20a) and the words addressed by Mary to the servants at the wedding at Cana (“Do whatever he tells you” in Jn 2:5b).
      What John places on the lips of the Mother, Matthew presents as a task given by Christ to the apostles, to the Church: Mary and the Church are united in leading men and women to obedience to the gospel of Christ. Both Mary and the Church refer back to the only Law that saves: the words of Jesus (see Jn 6:68).

With Mary awaiting the Spirit

48. In this reflection on “Marian devotion and the proclamation of the Word” we must consider one other text, Acts 1:13-14, which describes the apostles together with “some women...and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers” (Acts 1:14), awaiting the fulfillment of the Lord's promise: “Within a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; see Lk 24:49).
      It has often been pointed out that the same evangelist, Luke, wrote the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus (the first two chapters of the third gospel) which is a fundamental document on the Word made flesh and also the Gospel of the Infancy of the Church (Acts of the Apostles) which is a precise description of the spreading of the Word (see Acts 6:7): from Jerusalem, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth. It seems that Luke saw an important parallelism between the events of the Annunciation-Visitation (third gospel) and those of Pentecost and the spreading of the Word (Book of Acts): the Word-Spirit first received in private (by Mary in the house in Nazareth and by the apostolic community in the “upstairs room” [see Acts 1:13] of a house in Jerusalem) must be proclaimed, by the power of the Spirit, well beyond domestic walls: to all generations without limits of time or space.
      For her part, Mary - upon whom the Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High (see Lk 1:35 ), had descended - felt the need to proclaim the “ great things ” the Almighty had done for her; she left the house in Nazareth and went into the hill country to a town of Judah (see Lk 1:39). On the day of Pentecost, the apostles upon whom the “power from on high” (Lk 24:49) had descended and who were “filled with the Holy Spirit” began to speak in foreign tongues (Acts 2:4) to “devout Jews of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5); they left their seclusion and strengthened by the Spirit announced openly the work of salvation accomplished by God in the death and resurrection of Christ (see Acts 2:14-39; 4:3 1 ).51
      Mary and the Church are at the service of the Word. For both, “the works of God are to be made known with due honour” (Tb 12:11). But here again, the Virgin Mother Mary preceded the Virgin Mother Church: the faith, openness to the Spirit, gratitude, courage and concerned solicitude of the first will be examples for the latter, committed until the end of time to making known to all nations “God's manifold wisdom...in accord with his age-old purpose, carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:10-11).

* * *

49. In light of the relationship which exists between the mission of the Virgin and the proclamation of the Word, it is not difficult, brothers and sisters, to arrive at certain pastoral conclusions:

       It is not possible to exclude Marian piety from missionary endeavours. An enlightened devotion to Mary must make us aware of the serious and urgent problems related to the proclamation of the Word; it must urge us to take on the attitudes of Mary of Nazareth in relationship to the Word: full acceptance in faith which does not end in personal possessiveness but which expresses itself in zealous proclamation.

       It is necessary that the expressions of our Marian devotion be permeated, more than they are presently, by themes related to the evangelising mission of the Church.

       We must use to advantage the missionary methodology which brought excellent results in the past and clearly present the unique role of Mary in the history of salvation from the very beginning of the proclamation of the faith.

       It is necessary that in our work of evangelisation, we reproduce the attitude of the Church towards each of its apostolic works: looking to the Virgin who “ in her life... has been a model of that motherly love with which all who join in the Church's apostolic mission for the regeneration of mankind should be animated.”52

Fidelity to the liturgical reform

50. Our General Chapter is coming to an end as the Church is preparing to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium promulgated on 4 December 1963. That document had a tremendous effect on the life of the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite: from it came the post-conciliar liturgical reform which must be considered one of the greatest ecclesial events of the twentieth century.
Our Order lived this reform intensely: with joy, with hope and with tension.
      Our mention of the liturgical Constitution is not merely commemorative. We refer to it because we believe that its principles are valid and effective and need only to be implemented. The Constitution has permitted the renewal of our liturgy and our Marian devotion: its important article 103 had a significant effect on Chapter I of our Constitutions.53 The document is important, too, because it is impossible to speak about Marian piety without placing it in the wider liturgical context.

Popular piety

51. Before beginning our reflection on the relationship between Marian devotion and the liturgy, we have to make some mention of popular piety. It has at times been scorned and been cause for serious reservations; for example, popular piety was described as one of the “places” in which a dangerous separation of religion and faith could occur.
      In the 1960's popular piety was the object of numerous studies and was discussed by various episcopal conferences and the bishops of Rome. From these studies and discussions has come a consensus on the nature of popular piety and its value: “It manifests a thirst for God that only the simple and the poor can experience; it makes persons capable of generosity, sacrifice and even heroism when the faith has to be witnessed; it creates an acute sense of the fundamental attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence; it gives rise to interior attitudes rarely seen to the same degree: patience, the meaning of the cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion.”54 But popular piety does have its limits and its risks. “It is frequently open to penetration by various distortions of religion, even superstition. Often it remains at the level of cultic action without an authentic commitment in faith.”55

52. In the context of popular piety, the faithful easily understand the bond that exists between Christ and Mary. With simplicity they venerate Our Lady as the Immaculate Mother of God; with joy they recognise her as Mother of all and enjoy their relationship with her as an affectionate one between mother and child. They are keenly aware of the meaning of Mary's poverty and suffering; they learn patience and gentleness from her but they know that Mary during her life was a strong woman who was not on the side of the powerful. The faithful know that the Mother of Jesus is kind and lives with her son in heaven and they therefore seek her intercession and aid with confidence; they therefore love to celebrate her feasts, go on pilgrimage to her shrines and sing in her honour.

53. We religious often come into contact with cultures different from those of our native countries. When this happens and we are faced with popular Marian devotion, we must assume an attitude of respect and esteem for the “ culture” in which the devotion is rooted. It is necessary then to understand both the cultural roots which support the “popular” (in the sense of “this particular people”) image of Mary and the cultural expressions with which it is manifested. Only in this way can the values of popular Marian devotion be brought to light and the work of “purification” be accomplished; this “purification” is desired by all but often it is not done or is done in the wrong way: rejecting everything and consequently confusing individuals and humiliating the culture of a people.
      In the specific area of Marian piety, rather than opposing the liturgy to popular piety we must foster mutual and fruitful exchange. In this way the liturgy can channel with clarity and prudence the vitality and values of popular piety; for its part, the religion of the people, because of its symbolic and expressive richness, can supply the liturgy with stimuli and material for creativity.56

54. Strictly tied to the discussion of popular Marian piety, though not identical to it, is the subject of pious Marian exercises (there are, in fact, some exercises thet are so erudite that they have no popular roots).
      Almost ten years ago the Apostolic See offered religious a clear invitation to renew the exercises of Marian piety: “It is now up to episcopal conferences, to those in charge of local communities and to the various religious congregations prudently to revise practices and exercises of piety in honour of the Blessed Virgin, and to encourage the creative impulse of those who through genuine religious inspiration or pastoral sensitivity wish to establish new forms of piety.” 57 Besides the invitation, orientations, criteria and principles able to give new life to these pious exercises were offered.58
      It seems to us that we must ask ourselves how this invitation has been accepted. What has been done ? We do not have sufficient information to offer an adequate answer. Certainly, some institutes wisely renewed the expressions of their own Marian piety but the impression remains that in the greater number of cases this has not been done. But the invitation remains valid, without time limits, and can be accepted at any time.
       We cannot enter into the problem of the complex coexistence of pious exercises and liturgical actions. We limit ourselves to two observations:

       We do not believe that our devotional practice has been sufficiently affected by the conciliar norm that states that pious exercises “should be so drawn up that they harmonise with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it, and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.” 59 We ask ourselves if our “pious Marian exercises” always respond to this norm. Are they an introduction, an echo or a prolongation of liturgical actions? Unfortunately, one has the impression that these exercises flourish on the fringes of the liturgy.

       In our opinion, the future of pious Marian exercises will greatly depend on their quality and their ability to accept valid forms from the past and, even more, to respond to the new needs which continuously emerge in the life of the Church.

       There is a legitimate distinction between popular religious devotion and liturgy. But this must not be taken so far as to exclude a 'popular' dimension for liturgy, leaving it intentionally or not as an elitist expression of cult. This would be against the intrinsic nature of liturgy, which must be essentially 'popular', belonging, that is, to the entire People of God and adapted to the variety of its members.

Marian piety in the liturgy

55. Since we now want to speak directly about “ liturgy and Marian piety” it seems necessary to remind ourselves that the liturgy is the natural and most appropriate environment for venerating the Mother of the Lord. On many occasions and in many ways liturgical celebrations are themselves ritual memorials of the Blessed among women.

a. In the worship of the Blessed Trinity. In the celebration of the divine mysteries, the veneration of the Blessed Virgin flows into and almost loses itself in the worship we offer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this worship, the beautiful voice of Mary is joined to our unworthy voices in order to glorify with us the glorious Trinity.

b. In the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. In carrying out liturgical actions, Marian piety is immersed in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery and becomes a waiting for the gift of the Spirit. Every authentic liturgical celebration is, in various ways and degrees, a making present of the Paschal event of the Lord and the pouring forth of the grace of the Spirit.

c. In the history of salvation. In the liturgy, Marian piety finds its most appropriate setting: the history of salvation condensed and lived by the Church in the sign of the liturgical year. In this way, in the annual celebration of the mystery of Christ from Advent to the Parousia, the memorial of Mary is at times a prophetic proclamation in the words, figures and events of the Old Testament; at other times it commemorates active presence of the mother together with her son in events of great salvific importance (Incarnation-Christmas-Epiphany and Easter-Pentecost); finally, the memorial at times becomes a dynamic projection towards the final realities which have already been accomplished in Mary.

d. In listening to the Word. In liturgy, Marian piety encounters the divine Word. The celebration of the sacred mysteries through the power of the Spirit is the most privileged context for proclaiming and interpreting the biblical texts related to Mary of Nazareth. Since in the Bible every text is related to all the others and because in the cyclic rhythm of each year ancient interpretations are joined to new insights, the Marian texts are seen in the light of all of revelation.

e. In the Communion of Saints. In the liturgy, Mary is not celebrated in isolation but within the Communion of Saints. She appears as vitally linked to those who came before her, the patriarchs and prophets; to the apostles and other biblical witnesses; to the martyrs, virgins and innumerable disciples who have witnessed to Christ through the centuries. In this context, the Blessed Virgin appears as a daughter of Adam, our sister and the mother of disciples; her image takes on its proper proportions, her mission is emphasised in what makes it unique and exclusive, and her relationship to the Church is presented from a variety of viewpoints. We will say even more: the entire cosmos is linked to Christ, everything comes from him (see Jn 1:2; Col 1:16), by him and in him everything has been saved, and everything must return to him so that he can offer it to the Father (see 1 Cor 15:23-28). For the liturgy, Mary is a small part of the cosmos which the Spirit has already returned to Christ: she is definitively united to Christ “ the first born of every creature” (Col 1:15 ), but she is tied, too, to all the rest of creation which the Spirit is leading back to Christ through the very celebration of the sacred mysteries.

f. In awaiting the Parousia. In the celebration of the holy mysteries Marian piety acquires an essential dimension of the liturgy: the eschatological. Liturgy is, in fact, irrepressible projection towards the “final realities”; it is vigilant expectation of the Lord who came, comes today and will come again. In the liturgy, one frequently hears the last entreaty of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rv 22:20). Viewed from this eschatological perspective, the Blessed Virgin appears as Mary of the threefold Advent: she awaited the coming of the Messiah in the fullness of time which for her coincided with her giving birth (the birth of Christ); she awaited the coming of the Spirit which was accomplished in the Pentecost event (birth of the Church); she awaited the glorious coming of Christ which for her was realised in the assumption of her virginal body and soul into heaven (birth of
Mary to heavenly life).

56. In light of the liturgy's extraordinary capacity to place the expressions of veneration of Mary in an effective and meaningful context, one can understand the conciliar exhortation to foster “the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin”;
60 and on the contrary, one cannot understand the lack of attention given to the liturgy by many persons working in the pastoral field who want to foster Marian piety. We would like, brothers and sisters, to fully explain our thought about this matter : the present reawakening of Marian devotion could prove to be a deviation if it ignores the liturgical framework.

      We would like to express our adherence to two proposals advanced by some bishops and various scholars:

       The first is that in the Roman liturgy of the Easter Triduum explicit reference be made in a discreet and prudent way to one of its intrinsic elements: the participation of the mother in the passion of her son.61 This is in conformity with the very nature of liturgy which is the celebration of salvific events in their entirety; it is in conformity with the gospel account (see Jn 19:25-27) which is understood by many exegetes to be a biblical statement of the spiritual motherhood of Mary; it conforms to liturgical tradition if one considers the particular celebrations of the Byzantine Rite and other Eastern rites;62 finally, it responds to the expectations of the faithful. Not to accept this desire could lead to accentuating the distance between liturgy and popular piety in precisely those areas where possible and legitimate exchange is hoped for.

       The second proposal is that the particular character of the Fifty Days of Easter be maintained. In the liturgical ordering of the days that fall between the two outpourings of the Spirit (see Jn 20:19-23 and Acts 2:1-12), this is the time of the Paraclete: the reverberation and prolongation of the mysteries celebrated during the most Sacred Night, the contemplation of the risen Christ and his glory at the right hand of the Father, the living memorial of the Pentecost event. During Easter Time, Marian devotion must not even indirectly serve as an occasion to distract the attention of the faithful from these saving mysteries. It must, if anything, demonstrate the power of Christ's Resurrection and the gift of the Spirit that are operative in Mary. It is to be hoped that the Easter liturgy, following the lead of the biblical accounts (see Acts 1:14) can develop in the context of worship the mysterious relationship existing among the Spirit, the Church and Mary.63

Silence of the Blessed Virgin
and liturgical silence

57. With these notes we have certainly not exhausted the description of the complex relationships between “liturgy and Marian piety.” We only wanted to demonstrate the necessity of remaining faithful to the spirit of the liturgy and the principles of the reform promoted by Vatican Council II. Precisely to remain faithful to the liturgical reform we want to speak briefly about something it emphasised: the value of silence in manifestations of Marian devotion, both liturgical and extraliturgical.64 We are urged to do this by the spiritual profile of the Blessed Virgin, the authentic nature of liturgy and the genuine style of religious life.

58. The style of the Blessed Virgin. We are of the opinion that expressions of devotion to Mary should have, so to speak, the same style as the Blessed Virgin: a style marked by listening, silence and reflection.
      The Fathers of the Church liked to say that the eternal Word was generated from the infinite silence of God and, further, that from the silence of the Virgin's heart there came the word fiat, the human premise of the incarnation of the Word. The double mention of Mary's reflective silence (see Lk 2:19, 51b) has been the object of diligent study by contemporary exegetes and of loving attention by spiritual men and women of all times.65 These texts offer profound insights into the interior life of the Blessed Virgin. In her silence, she appears as the woman of wisdom who, in light of the Paschal event, remembers and keeps before her, interprets and compares, the words and facts of the birth and infancy of her son, questions herself about the meaning of obscure phrases overshadowed by the cross (see Lk 2:34-35; 48-50) and accepts the silences of God with her own adoring silence. In silence, the heart of the Blessed Virgin appears as the ark inwhich the “memories” of God's interventions in the history of Israel are conserved; it is the place where the times of “before” (of Adam, of Abraham, of David) are recalled in reflection and flow together, and where the time “ after” (Christ and the Church) begins; it is the earth in which good seed has been sown and will bear much fruit; it is the coffer in which sayings which the Spirit will gradually make clear to the Virgin herself and to the Church are treasured and in which the law of the Lord is held as light and norm for life.

59. The value of the Blessed Virgin's reflective attitude as a model in the Church's task of penetrating the Word has already been well expressed: “the 'mute Mother of the silent Word'...prefigured that long ceaseless effort of memory and intense rumination which constitutes the heart of the Church's Tradition.”66 But we can extend this value as model to the celebration of the divine mysteries: here, the Church proclaims the Word of God, but it can be vitally understood only in attentive listening and penetrating reflection; here, the Church celebrates the events of our salvation behind the veil of sacred signs, but this veil can be lifted only if the mind is open to Mystery, the will is one with the plan of God, the voice is in harmony with the heart.67

60. In the liturgy, silence is not inactivity, but rather a structural element of celebration: it favours the concentration that leads to personal prayer; it permits the oration of the one presiding to truly and authentically become the prayer of the entire assembly; it facilitates assimilating the Word proclaimed and listening to the voice of the Spirit. Silence is the sacred environment conducive to adoration and praise of God: Tibi silentium laus according to a biblically rooted prayer.68 But there is more: liturgical celebration is celebration “in the Spirit” and silence - a biblical and liturgical sign of the Paraclete 69 - is a way to communion with the Spirit operative in the divine mysteries, and, through him, to communion with the participants in the worshipping assembly.

61. Silence has always been considered a characteristic element of monastic-religious life and an especially effective means in the journey toward identification with Christ. There is no monastic rule or constitutional text that does not make reference to the importance of silence. In legislative texts we find, for example, that “we must seek in the silence of our cells to deepen our knowledge of self, to free ourselves from selfishness and to grow in that love for God and creatures which is the goal of our religious pilgrimage.”70 The contemporary magisterium of the Church, however, affirms that “the search for intimacy with God involves the truly vital need of a silence embracing the whole being, both for those who must find God in the midst of noise and confusion and for contemplatives.”71 Therefore, the silence which religious must never abandon in their various activities must surround them even more when they participate in the sacred liturgy.

62. From these various suggestions we can draw a two-fold conclusion:

       The Virgin of silence and attentive listening represents an invitation to internalise the Word and celebrate the liturgy by entering into mystery.

       We men and women religious are called upon to give to our Marian celebrations a tone and a style that favour reflective silence; to wrap them, so to speak, in that holy sign of silence which allows intimate presence to the transcendent, attentive listening to the whispering of the Spirit, and personal experience of the presence of the Word.

The way of beauty

63. Discussing the ways in which we religious can contribute to qualitative rather than quantitative promoting of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, we wish to indicate another which is not new, but rather is part of our “ family heritage”:

       To make of Marian devotion a holy time and an opportunity favourable to the contemplation of uncreated Beauty, God, of his divine-human splendour, Christ, and of the principal work of the Spirit of Beauty, the Virgin Mary.

       To make of Marian devotion an environment favourable to the festive gathering of all the expressions of artistic creation.

64. God, living and holy, is supreme Beauty. His word is poetic, that is, creative: from nothing he draws out being, from chaos, harmony, from darkness, light; the works of his hands are “beautiful and good” according to the fullest sense of the term used in the biblical account of creation (see Gen 1 :9, 12, 25, 31 ); 72 and when, through his Holy Spirit, he speaks to men and women in their own language, his word is itself poetry and often takes the most brilliant literary forms.
      We would like to pause to contemplate the beauty of Christ, brothers and sisters, but our reflection must be brief. We limit ourselves to contemplation of his beauty in its essence as the reflection of the Father's glory and the representation of his being (Heb 1:3) and in the splendour of the light that surrounds it (see Mk 9:2-3). Following the lead of the holy Fathers of the Church, we recall that the praise given to Wisdom is to be referred to Christ: “fairer than the sun” (Wis 7:29) and “the refulgence of eternal life, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness” (Wis 7:26). The same is true of the praise of the features of the Loved One which cause the Bride to exclaim, “Ah, you are beautiful, my lover” (Sg 1:16) and of the celebration of the appearance of the messianic king: “fairer in beauty are you than the sons of men, grace is poured out upon your lips, thus God has blessed you forever” (Ps 44 [45]:3).

65. Before the heavenly beauty manifest in the Blessed Virgin, the Christian is gripped by wonder: “O pure and holy Virgin, how can I find words to praise your beauty?” the liturgy asks.73
      Not without emotion, every year in the office of Holy Thursday we read an ancient text, the Easter homily of St. Melito of Sardis (+ c. 190) which describes Christ as “the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe.” 74 With joy, we recall that our brothers and sisters of the East who are so sensitive to the mystety of beauty call the Holy Spirit the divine Artist and hold that the masterpiece “icon” of God is the glorious Theotokos. Gregory Palamas (+ 1359) wrote: “Wanting to create the image of absolute beauty and manifest to angels and mortals the power of his art, God truly made Mary totally beautiful. In her he brought together the individual beauty distributed among other creatures and set her up as the adornment of all beings, visible and invisible. ” 75 Coming to our own times in the Latin Church, we can listen to the voice of the Bishop of Rome, PaulVI (+ 1978); as is well known, he invited students of Mariology not to ignore “the way of beauty.”76 He saw in Mary “a masterpiece of human beauty, not seen as a formal model, but as realised in her intrinsic and incomparable capacity to express the Spirit in the flesh, the divine likeness in the human face, invisible beauty in bodily form.” 77

Serious ascetic commitment

66. At this point we must add some observations to complete our reflection.

      First of all, it is necessary to dispel every perplexity about the nature of the via pulchritudinis: it is not an intellectual exercise nor is it a path reserved only to refined or cultured persons.
      The “way of beauty” is a serious ascetic commitment: Filocalia or “love of beauty” is the significant title of one of the most well-known ascetical books of the Christian East. The discovery and enjoyment of beauty presuppose the victory within ourselves (often with great effort) of truth over falsehood, goodness over evil, love over hatred; they imply overcoming divisions and healing wounds so that our inmost selves reflect unity and harmony.
      Beauty is the splendour of goodness and truth. Therefore Mary is beautiful: when she accepts the wil1 of God with humble heart (bonitas) and truthful word (veritas) and lets herself be possessed by the Spirit of peace; when, in her womb, unity is restored between God and humanity, earth and heaven; when, with her simplicity and humility, she destroys ancient deceitfulness and foolish pride.
      Mary is beautiful because the Spirit has taken her from the dominion of sin; the title of All Holy One typical of the Eastern tradition and that of Tota pulchra of the Roman liturgy describe the same reality and have the same motivation: in Mary there is no trace of sin.78
      The “way of beauty” is a path of enlightenment and a search for clarity; it is a struggle against sin in which the Fathers of the Church and the liturgy see the greatest ugliness; it is a progressive liberation from sin and increasing penetration of the truth and sanctity of God. For all these reasons the “way of beauty” becomes the “way of salvation.”

Fidelity to the Word

67. It should be pointed out that the “way of beauty” when faithful to the Word permits the harmonious integration of the gospel description of Mary and the dogmatic statements that refer to her. As Paul discovered in Jesus “born of a woman and born under the law” (Gal 4:4) the new Man (see 1 Cor 15:45) and the Lord of glory (see 1 Cor 2:8) so, too, the Church has seen in Mary of Nazareth, the humble woman, the new Woman prepared by God for Christ and all humanity. In Mary, the “real woman” and the “ideal woman” coincide. Supported by the faith, the Christian sees in Mary the realisation of his or her loftiest religious and human ideals:

       in her and in her Immaculate Conception, humanity is seen as restored to its original innocence and beauty and the symbol of the “virgin earth” finds its fulfillment;

       in her and in her faithfulness to God, the spiritual summit of Israel is seen in the image of the unbroken Covenant;

       in her and in her openness to the Spirit, one contemplates the ideal of discipleship and sees the clearest outline of the dialogue between God and humanity, the harmonious relationship of nature and grace;

       in her and in her virginal maternity, one sees the realisation of the ideals of faithful Bride, perfect Virgin and fecund Mother; one admires an impossible desire become real: the union of the glory of virginity with the joy of motherhood;79 and one is amazed to- see in the offspring of this maternity the realisation of another wonder: God in humanity and humanity in God;

       in her and in her natural devotion, one sees fulfilled the hope of every person wounded by pain and evil: to find again the embrace of a mother who accepts, understands and restores; -

       in her and in her glorious Assumption, the Christian contemplates the fulfillment of the most intimate hope, overcoming death in life, and perceives a sign of “hope accesible to all.”80

68. This “image” of the Blessed Virgin is not, as is sometimes said, the result of unconscious externalisation of the deep aspirations of humanity nor is it the fruit of a systematic Christianisation of pagan myths; it is an “icon” designed by the Spirit to illustrate a gift of God to humankind. It is an easily understood demonstration of the way in which God who made man and woman in his own image (see Gen 1:26-27) responds to the needs of their hearts. Finally, this image is a transcription of the facts of Sacred Scripture in the language of faith and poetry.
      In this field, brothers and sisters, we must beware of literary fiction which separates itself from the Word and remains sterile and deceptive. But we must also appreciate, as did the Fathers of the Church, poetic vision supported by faith and directed toward the Word. This vision, both intuitive and penetrating, becomes poetry which allows the faithful to hear the nuances hidden in the divine Word.

69. It seems important to emphasise again that “Mary as image” does not keep for herself the vision and the words directed towards her; she refers them to “Christ as image,” to “Church as image,” to the divine Artist:

       To Christ, the only perfect “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), the only one who achieves perfect harmony.

       To the Church, because “Mary as image” is an anticipation of the “Church as image” which God designs and completes in the course of salvation history. In this way, looking towards the image of Mary, Mother of the Light, is extended to looking towards the “Woman clothed with the sun” (see Rv 12:1), the Church which brings forth the members of the total Christ. In the same way, vision directed towards Mary, the Virgin Bride resplendent in beauty, continues in the contemplation of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church “coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband ” (Rv 21:2 ).

      To the divine Artist, since every disciple of the Lord, who is accustomed to deducing from the beauty of creation the inexpressible beauty of the Creator, in contemplating the mysterious beauty of Mary will be led to glorify the unfathomable beauty of God.

70. Finally, it seems that we religious, because of our tradition, must actively cooperate in the effort to put into practice some of the demands of the via pulchritudinis:

       the reevaluation of symbolic language and biblical poetics, the fostering of poetic vision and artistic taste, the use of intuition and the speedy reconciliation of art with faith - in this way, the “mystery of worship” will once again enrich artistic expression;

       the elimination from the signs through which we express our Marian piety (such as places, words, songs, colour) of all that is ugly and unoriginal, repetitious and false.

The way of sons and daughters

71. We said, brothers and sisters, that the “way of beauty” is not a path reserved to specialists; it is “a way accessible to all, even the simple,” 81 above all to the pure in heart who grasp the beauty “of the lilies of the field” and with Jesus understand that “not even Solomon in all his splendour was arrayed like one of these” (Mt 6:29). We would add that it is a path to be preferred by religious whom St. Augustine described at the end of his Rule as “lovers of spiritual beauty.”82
      Finally, the “way of beauty” is the “way of sons and daughters.” Children, because of a shared experience of life and of love, discover in their mother signs of profound beauty which remain hidden to others. Since, together with Jesus “the first born of many brothers” (Rom 8:29) we call Mary “mother” (though in different ways), we think we can make our own the words of B1. Amadeus of Lausanne (+ 1159) who has the Son say in praise of his Mother: “'You are all beautiful, my mother, and there is no blemish in you' (Sg 4:7). You are beautiful, he tells her: beautiful in thought, beautiful in word, beautiful in action; beautiful from birth until death; beautiful in the virginal conception , beautiful in your divine maternity, beautiful in the sufferings of my passion, beautiful above all in the splendor of my resurrection.” 83

Choice of the poor

72. Christ is our true and supreme wealth and the most abject misery is being without Christ. Before him and the demands of the Kingdom, everything is of secondary importance - father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, wealth and even life itself (see Lk 14:26, 33). Anyone who places any one of these values before the supreme value - Christ and his Kingdom - cannot be a disciple of the Lord. Since attachment to wordly goods hardens the heart to the point of being closed even to the person of Christ himself (see Lk 18:18-27) and makes it insensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters (see 1 Jn 3:17; Jas 2:14-16; Lk 16:19-21), one can well understand why the gospel and the letters of the apostles so insistently and firmly warn disciples to be aware of the danger of placing wealth at the centreof their lives. For when this happens, one falls into a serious form of idolatry: in place of God, the Love which is poured out in human hearts (see Rom 5:5), one adores the idol of gold and silver, “ill gotten wealth” (see Lk 16:9), which is sterile and closed in dark selfishness. One can well understand why the apostle warns: “Love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10).

73. Jesus did not condemn the goods of this world in themselves. But in contrast to the forms of life dominated by the thirst for wealth, he chose for himself a life marked by a radical poverty. The event of the Incarnation itself, in which the Word took on the “form of a servant” (Phil 2:7), is seen as a mystery of poverty and kenosis. When the apostle wrote to the Corinthians, he explained the ultimate meaning of Christ's poverty. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that by his poverty you may become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). We do not have to look far in the gospels to discover Christ's poverty; it springs to our eyes at once. He was born in poverty (see Lk 2:7), lived in poverty (see Lk 9:58), and died in poverty (seeMk 15:24); he made the proclamation of the Good News to the poor the sign by which to recognise the coming of the Messianic Kingdom (see Lk 7:22); he proclaimed the poor in spirit blessed, saying that theirs was the Kingdom of Heaven (see Mt 5:3); he wanted the heralds of the Kingdom not to acquire gold, silver, copper or a bag for their journey (see Mt 10:9-10).

74. Likewise, the gospel account of the life of the Mother of Jesus reveals her as a poor woman, whose life was marked by a twofold poverty: poverty in the sociological sense, and poverty in the sense of the Kingdom. Both merged harmoniously in her.

75. Mary's sociological poverty immediately stands out for one who reads the gospels: Mary was born poor in the despised region of Galilee - the semi-pagan “Galilee of the gentiles” (Mt 4:15) - at Nazareth, an obscure hamlet that counted for nothing in the history of Israel (see Jn 1 :46; 7:52); she was betrothed to Joseph, a simple carpenter (see Lk 1 :27; Mt 13:55); she gave birth to her son in a grotto-stable and placed him “ in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7); she redeemed him with the offering of the poor (see Lk 2:24); when her son was persecuted by the powerful, she had to flee into a foreign land where she experienced the hardships of exile (see Mt 213); and after returning to Nazareth, she lived the life of the poor for many years in obscurity; during the public life of her son, nothing altered her state as a simple woman of the people while her participation in the mystery of the “sign of contradiction” increased; she felt the hostility of her fellow citizens towards her son: “ they rose up and put him out of the city and led him to the brow of the hill...that they might throw him down” (Lk 4:29); she realised that even her relatives could not understand: “his family went out to take charge of him, for they sald, 'He is out his mind...”' (Mk 3:21 ); she lived through the drama of her son's death, crucified between “two criminals, one on the right, and one on the left” (Lk 23:33).

76. But Mary stands out most of all because of the intense manner in which she lived the spirituality of the “poor of the Lord.” The Blessed Virgin “stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him.” 84 This because she was a woman delighted to serve the Lord (see Lk 1:38,46-48), faithful in observance of the Law (see Lk 2:22-24,27,39), open to the will of God (Lk 1:38); she was concerned about Elizabeth in offering her aid, rejoicing with her for the gift of motherhood and proclaiming the gratuity of God's gifts (see Lk 1:39-56) She was a woman who was blessed for her faith (see Lk 1:55), blessed for the fruit of her womb (see Lk 1:42), exemplary for her confidence in the fulfillment of the promises made to the Fathers (see Lk 1:45). She was the woman of the sanctifying greeting (see Lk 1:40-41, 44), of the hymn of gratitude (see Lk 1:46-55), of the decisive word (see Lk 1:38, Jn 2:5), of silent reflection (see Lk 2:19, 51b). She was the woman who shared the fate of her people (see Lk 1 :54); she stood by the meek in heart - Simeon and Anna, the shepherds and the wise men who had come from afar - and by the oppressed (see Lk 1:52 -53; Mt 2: 16- 18); she was attentive to the needs of her neighbour (see Jn 2:3), and concerned for the new community of Jesus' disciples (seeJn 2:1-12; Acts 1:14). She was the woman of the humble, simple heart that trusts in God (see Lk 1:48) and, having received mercy, she proclaimed the mercy of the Lord and exalted his liberating power (see Lk 1:51-53).

77. We know that the credibility of local Churches and religious institutes depends to a great extent on the authenticity of their witness to evangelical poverty. No one is dispensed from this witness; all the disciples of the Lord are called to it, though in different ways. We religious know that “on this point...our contemporaries question [us] with particular insistence.”85
       After contemplating the gospel figure of Mary, the “poor woman,” we feel that it, too, urgently invites us to take a clear stand in favour of the poor and to make a serious effort to live a sober life, free of possessions and power, sharing the sufferings of real poverty.
       As far as Marian devotion in concerned, our reflection has led us to conclude that if devotion to the Blessed Virgin is not to be lost in abstractions or be restricted to the purely individual sphere, it must be presented with the content of the gospel message of poverty. In other words, it must be an opportunity for us to preach to the sociologically rich and the sociologically poor the sole evangelium paupertatis, namely, the subordination of the goods of this world to the values of the Kingdom and the essential destination of these goods to human service and development. Marian devotion must proclaim the message of the Magnificat and the beatitudes by rejecting every “compromise with any form of social injustice” 86 and by denouncing every form of oppression of the poor; it must be a moment of prayer that lifts discouraged hearts to God “who raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (Ps 113 [112]:7) and who listens to the “cry of the poor” (Job 34:28) which is “more pressing than ever [because on personal distress and collective misery.” 87 Our devotion must be a warning not to present certain social situations as “ the will of God” when they are merely the effect of the sin of humankind.
Mary of Nazareth has preceded us in this worshipful attitude of faith in God and denunciation of injustice. Her hymn of thanksgiving is by no means a proclamation of earthly messianism, or a cry for social revolution; but neither is it a disembodied prayer. It is a song of liberation springing from faith, a recalling of God's interventions in history, a word spoken in the name of “those who neither passively accept the adversities of their personal and community lives, nor are simple victims of 'alienation', as is said today, but rather those who proclaim with her that God is the 'avenger of the hamble', and where necessary, the One who 'casts down the powerful from their thrones.' '' 88