Not a Liberating Vision

The Mother of the Lordby By the Pontifical International Marian AcademyAlba House. 125p $14.95
With The Mother of the Lord, the Pontifical International Marian Academy offers the reader a systematic, academic presentation on the person and mission of Mary, the mother of God. The preface of the work explains what this book is and, by virtue of that explanation, the reader understands what this book is not. It is not a creative, enticing look into the life of this Jewish woman who lived and struggled in first-century Palestine. It is also not a book that offers current theological trends on Marian theology and spirituality by contemporary authors.

The reader will discover early on that this book, encouraged by the Holy See, is written to clarifiy for the reader questions that face the church regarding Marian devotion and Marian theology. The sources for this clarification are the writings of the great teachers of the faith, the ecumenical councils, episcopal conferences and many dicasteries and commissions of the Holy See.

Books of this sort are not usually captivating, but this one does have merit. The historical development of Marian doctrine is explained thoroughly and clearly. We see that Mariology penetrates all aspects of our tradition and that Mary is truly a woman of hope for our troubled times. The hope that Marian teachings can offer the people of God is clearly delineated and pastorally presented here by the Pontifical Academy. This book will be very useful to someone giving a talk on how the church views Mary. Its writing style is more inviting than the Catechism, and its conciseness makes it easy to use.

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I was pleased to see a section on Marian spirituality, but I must note that what it offers is a very high Mariology. The Mary of the Pontifical Marian Academy is the perfect Virgin, surrounded by the stars of heaven, sitting by her son at the right hand of God. It must be asked if this is a woman with whom people can relate, and whether she must remain distant from the human experience that she herself lived? An academic book of this kind runs the risk of underemphasizing the blessedness of Marys human life. I did not encounter the Mary of the Magnificat, a hymn that the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls the most radical Advent hymn in existence. Nor did I encounter the Mary revered in Mexico and the Americas as Our Lady of Guadalupe, wearing the colors of the Aztec culture.

There is a fear implicit in this book of connecting the Virgin too closely to such a liberating figure, because this kind of connection veers too far from doctrinal pronouncements. When Marian devotion is explained, it is noted that it must be marked with a clear ecclesial orientation. I was reminded of Robert Orsis wonderful book, The Madonna of 115th Street, a chronicle of how the official church of New York City co-opted the annual Marian festa of Harlem and wrested it from the Italian immigrants, who used the devotion to work through their harsh life as poor people in a new nation. These Catholics longed for a Mary who would sit beside them in their sorrows. While she was their Queen of Heaven, she was also their sister and mother, who comforted them in their pain. Those concerned with ecclesial realities were fearful that they would lose control of intense devotions to a woman whom the church made its own. It seems that fear still persists, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, this book is very much on target when it connects Mary to the communion of saints and the life of the Spirit moving in our midst.

There is definitely a place on the library shelf for The Mother of the Lord, but only if it is placed next to Truly Our Sister, by Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., or another work by a contemporary Catholic theologian. The two books combined will give the reader a balanced, ecclesial and liberating vision of a graced woman of faith who has a key role to play in our lives.

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