Devotion to Mary can invigorate our love for the Eucharist
The National Eucharistic Revival is underway in the United States. In a previous article for America, I underscored the need to highlight full, conscious and active participation in the Eucharistic liturgy as a needed focus for the revival. If the central organizing feature of the revival is Eucharistic devotion—and liturgical participation remains a kind of add-on—we will have missed an extraordinary opportunity for genuine renewal.
Eucharistic devotions do have an important place in our spiritual tradition. They can lead to the Eucharistic liturgy, and they can lead us from the liturgy to prolong its effects. One way to achieve this integrated approach to liturgy and devotions is to stream spiritual currents together in a way that can result in a powerful synergy.
What if we brought together two of these currents: attachment to the Eucharist as liturgical action and devotion with attachment to the Blessed Virgin Mary? The conjunction of these currents can enable them to reinforce each other and can make a significant impact on our spiritual journeys.
In this time of Eucharistic revival, we would do well to consider the Blessed Virgin Mary in relation to the Eucharist.
Mary and our liturgy
We can begin with the Blessed Virgin Mary. She stands as a model of faith and devotion for those who want to follow Jesus, her son. She is his foremost disciple. And in this time of Eucharistic revival, we would do well to consider her in relation to the Eucharist. A good starting point is the celebration of the Eucharist itself: the Mass. But first, an important piece of context is necessary.
When we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, it is natural to focus on the community that we see and hear—the people right in front of us—especially if we worship with a community in which people know each other. We need to recall, however, that there is more to our worshiping assembly than those immediately visible to us. We not only form a worshiping community gathered here on earth, but we also belong to the communion of saints.
Our worship on earth always joins the heavenly liturgy with all the angels and saints, the women and men and children who have gone before us. The “Holy, Holy, Holy” is the angelic hymn from the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly liturgy. It prompts us to realize that we are more than an earthly gathering bound by this time and this space. We stretch to heaven and we touch eternity, even here and even now.
In the heavenly liturgy, we find the Virgin Mary as the pre-eminent member of this worshiping community. Prayers in the liturgy reflect her presence and place in our worship. For example, in the preface attached to the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy, through your beloved son, Jesus Christ, your word through whom you made all things, whom you set as our savior and redeemer, incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin.
Her presence is evident later in that same Eucharistic prayer:
Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with Saint Joseph her spouse, with the blessed Apostles, and all the saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you through your son, Jesus Christ.
These prayers emphasize just how present Mary is with us in every Eucharist that we celebrate.
In fact, in the sacramental economy—that is, the incarnational way that the sacraments unfold for us—the connection between Mary and the Eucharist runs quite deep. Our faith affirms that the Eucharist is really and truly the body of Christ made present to us. The link between Mary, Incarnation and Eucharist becomes evident in the 700-year-old Eucharistic hymn “Ave Verum”:
Ave verum Corpus natum
de Maria Virgine:
vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine.
Hail true body that was born
of Mary, the Virgin,
that truly suffered and that was offered
on the cross for humanity.
The body of Christ that we experience in the Eucharist is that body that first took human flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is an extraordinary link between Mary and the Eucharist.
In the sacramental economy—that is, the incarnational way that the sacraments unfold for us—the connection between Mary and the Eucharist runs quite deep.
Mary’s Eucharistic spirituality
Another connection between Mary and the Eucharist leads us to consider her Eucharistic spirituality. In other words, it is worth considering how the New Testament describes the way that Mary lived eucharistically. Think of her great song of praise, the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). In that prayer and hymn, Mary raises her voice in memory, thanksgiving and hope. She remembers what God has done for his people, and she gives thanks for that. She looks forward to the fulfillment of all God’s promises. Her Magnificat perfectly echoes our Eucharistic prayer that remembers and so makes present the death and resurrection of the Lord, gives thanks for our redemption from sin and death, and looks forward and waits in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.
Mary’s Eucharistic way of living or spirituality also finds an echo in our call to participation in the Eucharist, which is to be full, conscious and active. That kind of participation means we join ourselves to the self-sacrificing love of Jesus manifested and effected on the cross in a way that is complete, aware and engaged. That is exactly the pattern of participation in the mystery of Christ that frames Mary’s life at its beginning and at the end.
At the Annunciation, she surrenders herself fully, consciously and actively when she responds to the Lord: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). At the end of the earthly life of her son, we see her “standing near the cross of Jesus” (Jn 19:25), again present and sharing in his sacrifice in a trusting surrender that is full, conscious and active.
The New Testament also shines a light on the ecclesial sense of Mary’s Eucharistic living. As mother of the church, she demonstrates how our prayer and participation in the Lord’s Eucharist is not simply an individual or personal enterprise. She is firmly embedded in the life of the church community that keeps vigil together and prays together. The very last biblical image we have of her is found in the Acts of the Apostles (1:12-14):
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet…. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.
Mary’s Eucharistic way of living finds an echo in our call to participation in the Eucharist, which is to be full, conscious and active.
Mary is one with the church at prayer. In addition to her connections to the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy, Mary demonstrates helpful pathways for Eucharistic devotions. The action of the Eucharist—the Mass—is the source and summit of the Christian life, as the Second Vatican Council teaches us. The same council affirms and encourages worship of the Eucharist outside the Mass, what we more commonly may refer to as adoration. Mary provides a strong and inspiring model for this form of Eucharistic praying.
Consider her life in Nazareth. St. Luke summarizes that life in a brief but truly significant verse: “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk 1:51). Mary lived in the presence of Jesus. She paid attention to him. She contemplated him. She found a focus and a center in him. It is the same for us who come before the Eucharistic Lord, as we simply stay with him, watch him, focus ourselves on him and find in him a center for our lives. This form of Eucharistic adoration both stems from the Mass and leads us back to the Mass.
Many people may not detect an immediate connection between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist. Our biblical, liturgical and spiritual traditions, however, show us how close the link is between the mother of Jesus and his Eucharist. She is a sure and reliable model for us as we enter deeply into the mystery of this great sacrament.