“The Virgin in Prayer” by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (1609-1685), oil on canvas, painted between 1640 and 1650, housed at the National Gallery, London. NATIONAL GALLERY/LONDON

Spiritual Life

CONNIE ROSSINI: Why do Catholics address prayers to Mary?

We have just finished a series on the Our Father that spanned several months. Beginning today, we will explore the Catechism’s brief exposition of the Hail Mary. We will also draw from papal documents on the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially “Rosarium Virginis Mariae” (“Rosary of the Virgin Mary”) by St. Pope John Paul II.

When considering the Rosary, the first question that arises is: Why should we pray it? Why should we pray to Mary, a mere human being, when we can pray directly to God? Our Protestant brothers and sisters, and sometimes even Catholics, find this puzzling.

The Catechism states, “In prayer the Holy Spirit unites us to the person of the only Son, in his glorified humanity, through which and in which our filial prayer unites us in the Church with the Mother of Jesus” (no. 2673). The Virgin Mary has a special relationship to both the Son and the Spirit. She has traditionally been called the Holy Spirit’s spouse, since she conceived Jesus by the Spirit (Mt 1:20). In other words, Mary experienced the most intimate union with him. Through this union, Christ was born.

In prayer, we become like Mary. The Holy Spirit comes down upon us and makes Christ present in us. In this union with Christ, we are able to raise our prayers to God the Father. Christian prayer, then, is in some sense Marian by its very nature. We experience a union with God through prayer that is only possible because of Mary’s prior union with him. Her “yes” to God paves the way for our “yes.” Her openness to the Holy Spirit makes the Holy Spirit available to those who believe in her Son. When we pray as Christians, we always pray with Mary.

But praying to Mary goes beyond praying with her. The Catechism says, “Beginning with Mary’s unique cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the Churches developed their prayer to the holy Mother of God, centering it on the person of Christ manifested in his mysteries. In countless hymns and antiphons expressing this prayer, two movements usually alternate with one another: the first ‘magnifies’ the Lord … the second entrusts the supplications and praises of the children of God to the Mother of Jesus, because she now knows the humanity which, in her, the Son of God espoused” (no. 2675).

We direct our prayers to Mary because she knows Jesus better than any other human being. He took his humanity from her. She was and is truly his mother. Incorporated into Christ, we are also her sons and daughters, just as we are sons and daughters of God.

St. Pope Paul VI wrote, “In the Virgin Mary everything is relative to Christ and dependent upon Him. It was with a view to Christ that God the Father from all eternity chose her to be the all-holy Mother and adorned her with gifts of the Spirit granted to no one else. Certainly genuine Christian piety has never failed to highlight the indissoluble link and essential relationship of the Virgin to the divine Savior” (“Devotion to Mary”, no. 25).

The “great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age (is): ‘Do whatever he tells you’” (“Rosary of the Virgin Mary,” no. 21). We come to Mary with our requests and she brings them – and us – to Christ. In the early Church, Marian doctrines such as Mary as Mother of God protected our belief in the divinity and saving power of Christ. Prayer to Mary leads us to her Son.

Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is the author of “The Q&A Guide to Mental Prayer,” now available at amazon.com, and five other books on Catholic spirituality.