Why Proclaim a “Marian Year”?
By Awake! correspondent in Italy
“THE Planet Rallied Around Mary,” “With Mary Towards the Year 2000,” “The World Prays Live,” ran the newspaper headlines commenting on the transmission in world television of the Rosary,* one of the more traditional forms of Catholic worship. The voices of thousands of the faithful joined the pope’s voice in prayer. But why did so many people take part in this event? What made this recital of the Rosary so special? Why was ‘the world rallied around Mary’?
With this spectacular ceremony, John Paul II entrusted the whole of humanity to the “Madonna,” invoking her protection. So doing, he opened the Marian Year, a year he has dedicated to Mary.
As was expected, the event raised both agreement and criticism. Traditionalist Catholics enthusiastically described it as a “sensational example of how modern technology can be used as a precious instrument in the service of an event related to the faith.” For others, both Catholics and non-Catholics, it was a useless waste of money, a “cosmic show” of doubtful taste. Many were disturbed by the fact that a religious event was sponsored by “a team of rampant advertising agencies,” for a total cost of about two million dollars. And Giancarlo Zizola, Vatican observer of Il Giorno, deplored the fact that a “multimillion-dollar Barnum-type television spectacle should be staged, reducing the Madonna to a supporting role for disposable razor blades, ballpoint pens, and tights, and for a religious idolatry that knows no limits.”
John Paul II—The “Madonna’s Pope”
What moved Catholicism’s chief representative to proclaim a Marian Year? Various reasons, according to Vatican observers.
Some point out John Paul II’s “Marian fervor.” Many Catholics consider him to be the “Madonna’s pope.” He has even included, plainly visible, the letter “M,” the initial of Mary, on his episcopal emblem. As his motto he adopted the words of Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, a 17th-century Catholic mystic, fully consecrating himself to the “Madonna” with the words Totus tuus (All yours). He has demonstrated his ardent devotion to Mary while on his travels in Mexico, France, Germany, Poland, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, and other countries, by visiting the most famous sanctuaries dedicated to her. According to observers, therefore, the proclamation of a Marian Year is a further demonstration of the pope’s fervid “Marian spirituality.”
Also, for quite some time, in the more conservative Catholic spheres, there has been concern over the fact that Marian worship seems to have been obscured. In this century, triumphantly described by Pope Pius XII as “the era of Mary,” the Catholic clergy have witnessed what they themselves term a “profound Marian crisis.” They hope that the Marian Year will help to “rediscover Mary,” so reviving her worship.
In the prayer composed for the opening of the Marian Year, John Paul II entrusted “the whole of humanity, with its hopes and fears,” to Mary. He had done so on two previous occasions, as had other popes prior to him. Since the more fervid Marianists are convinced that the “present appalling crisis of faith” is also due to the crisis in Marian worship, they claim that if the world returns to Mary, some of mankind’s greatest problems will be solved. “Christian living will replace the present materialism, there will be the conversion of the atheistic nations. And humanity will have peace,” writes the Catholic periodical Ecce Mater Tua.
Mary and the Hope of a New World
Finally, the pope hopes that under the “Madonna’s” guidance it will be possible to prepare for the year 2000, the year to which Catholicism’s leader attaches great importance. According to the church, preparation for this date is indispensable since, as the Catholic periodical Verona fedele states: “At the close of this century, humanity finds itself in its most tragic hour, but also in the most promising hour of its history. We have arrived at a crossroads: on the one hand, the very concrete possibility of self-destruction; on the other, the hope of a new era, of a new world. . . . If we may use a Biblical term, we would like to say that we are ‘in the last times,’ that is, the times that conclude a long and painful episode in human history; but also the times that appear to open up another one, more serene and happy.” It is therefore to favor a return to God in a moment considered crucial that the pope has entrusted the whole world to Mary.
But what has this period from June 7, 1987, to August 15, 1988, actually meant for Catholics? How was the Marian Year celebrated? What has been the reaction of other religious confessions to the Catholic Church’s initiative?
A Catholic devotion, using rosary beads, “of meditation on usu[ally] five sacred mysteries during recitation of five decades of Hail Marys.”—Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
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Cover: Courtesy of the El Prado Museum, Spain