Q: Archbishop J, why do Catholics turn to Mary in times of trouble?
Catholics see Mary as a sacred vessel that contained the Most Holy One, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Like the chalice or ciborium at Mass, Mary contained the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Like the tabernacle that contains the Body of Christ, so too Mary contained the Body of Christ. While tabernacles in our churches give nothing to the Body of Christ, Mary gave her DNA, her body, and her blood to Jesus as He grew in her womb. Hers was the only body that supplied all that was necessary for the human body of Jesus.
The Queen Mother
Tradition has seen Mary as the “queen mother”. In the ancient royal court, the queen mother occupies a very special place: “When Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne. He had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat down at his right hand” (1Kings 2:19). Notice the deference he gives to her; he bows and then brings a throne for her to sit on his right.
These are all symbolic of the power that she holds in the royal court. Bathsheba comes to intercede. She is not successful before Solomon. But the pattern is established that the queen mother has a very privileged role in the royal court. She can approach the King when others cannot; raise topics with him that others dare not. Mary is Queen Mother in the heavenly court. She is crowned queen of Heaven and Earth, not as spouse, but in the more exalted position of Mother of the King.
Sub Tuum Praesidium
(Under Thy Patronage)
‘Under Thy Patronage’, this most ancient of all Marian prayers was found inscribed on a third century Egyptian papyrus. It is probable it was prayed long before it was written down. By its very structure, we can see our relationship with Mary as Queen Mother. Thus, what might we not ask of her.
We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and Blessed Virgin.
This is my favourite Marian prayer. It is short, direct and brings out the filial relationship between mother and child. The Greek word translated as ‘patronage’, is the same word used to describe the response of the good Samaritan to the man who was attacked by the robbers.
The NIV Bible uses the word ‘pity’; others use compassion. The word suggests a gut-wrenching reaction—from the depth of the bowels—a visceral response. It is nearly involuntary and connotes an extreme reaction. The person cannot help but run to assist. English is very poor in expressing emotions.
The prayer recognises Mary as Holy Mother of God, Theotokos. The Greek term means ‘the one who brought forth God’. This too is an ancient title of Mary.
The Council of Ephesus in 431 AD insisted, “If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the holy virgin is the ‘Theotokos’ (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the word of God become flesh by birth) let him be anathema.”
This Marian title was established, at least from the second century. With the title Theotokos, the Council affirmed Jesus as true God and true Man. Marian devotion guaranteed orthodoxy and the creedal formula of the Council. Any break with the long tradition of the Church in honouring Mary through her various titles is a modern-day aberration.
The request in the Under Thy Patronage prayer is simple: deliverance from all danger. The recognition is also simple, we are in a time of grave necessity. The prayer ends with another title of Mary—Glorious and Blessed Virgin.
Mother of the disciple
Some Christians believe that Mary’s role ends when Jesus was 12 years old and went to the temple in Jerusalem. This is to misread the scripture and the Tradition. In a very moving scene at the foot of the Cross, the mother is given to the beloved disciple and the disciple to the mother (Jn 19:25–27). It is strange that a dying man would use his precious breath, in this time of agony, to do this final act.
Mary is practically invisible in the public life of Jesus. In John’s Gospel she intercedes at the wedding feast at Cana. Then we meet her in Matthew 12:46–50, concerned that Jesus had gone out of His mind. But she takes a prominent role at the time of her Son’s crucifixion and death. She is present when the other disciples run away. And then, tradition gives us the scene of the Pieta—Mary holding the dead body of her Son.
The next appearance of Mary is in the Upper Room before Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Mary is found praying with the early Church. It is our belief she was there at Pentecost. Ancient images of Pentecost show Mary as the central figure, holding the fledging community together.
It is my belief that Mary is given a second mission at the cross. Her first mission was to be mother of the Incarnate Word. Jesus then gave her a mission to be mother of the disciples.
In the Upper Room, Mary must have spoken about the mysteries she had pondered for so many years and this speaking enkindled the faith of the disciples (Lk 2:19, 51). Mary emerges in the iconography of Pentecost as the central figure because she nurtures the disciples as she nurtured Jesus.
She is Mother of the Church because she prepares the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit. She is pressed into action in the Upper Room to do for the disciples what she did for Jesus.
That is what she does today: She prepares the disciple to receive the Holy Spirit.
She remains active in the life of the Church. This is why we fly to her patronage. She is mother of the Church and our Mother.
Mary’s role as intercessor is ancient. It existed in the early Church as it exists in the Church today.
Gather your household and pray the family rosary and the ‘Under Thy Patronage’ daily