Devotion to Mary is a very common Catholic tradition. Even people who don’t know anything deep or essential about Catholicism, the illiterate or the uneducated have been known to say that the difference between Protestant Christianity and Catholic Christianity is that the former is the ‘Jesus’ one, and latter is the one that has Mary in it.
But the essentials about why we have great devotion to Mary are lost to many because they hardly see that great connection between faith in Jesus, and the love of Mary. We all know that we don’t worship Mary, and neither do we adore her as a goddess. Besides, Mary would never want that from us, because only God alone deserves worship and adoration. But why then do we have this great devotion to Mary as Catholics?
In life, there are essentials and less-essentials. And it is found in almost every aspect of life. You name it – from things as mundane as clothing and personal grooming, to things as elaborate as cars and computers, there are the essentials and less-essentials. What is the essential in clothing? Basic covering and protection. Just cover up what needs to be covered up, and you have clothing. You can use bearskins, or fig leafs. But what is less-essentials would be the additions or decorations, or attachments, or adornments if you like. So skirts can have long trains, dresses can have long sleeves, huge collars, lace, sequins, appliqué, one can wear hats, gloves and stockings to complete the look.
In the computer world, what is essential is the CPU, keyboard and monitor. But we all know that you can add so much to this combination, upgrade it, and soup it up and it can just about run the entire household.
In our faith, what is essential? The Word and the Eucharist. Those are non-negotiable. Our essence and our object are intimacy with Jesus and the Holy Trinity. Not Mary. The Word and the Eucharist are what brings Christians together. We should never substitute devotion for the Word and Eucharist. Thus, praying the Rosary during Mass is just bad form. When we are too caught up in devotion, we can lose sight of the essentials and end up missing the forest for the trees.
But why does the Church then have devotions, especially Marian devotion? Simply put, it appeals to the heart, that human side of us, that romantic side of us that makes us human. Devoid of this, we may have the essentials, but in the context of a meal, we may have just the main course, (the meat and potatoes, for those whose diet is largely of a western palate) but what completes a meal, what transforms a meal from being one of basic sustenance to become an experience, is when you have not just the basics, but the appetizers, the entrees, the salads, the wines and the desserts to complement the main course. And a meal is unbalanced with the other things overshadow and take the attention away from the main course.
Same for Marian devotion and any other devotion that is not Word or Eucharist. We need them also because not all of us are deep theologians and liturgists who understand every aspect of theology. I suppose the deep theologians can just receive spiritual nourishment from the basics. But having said that, if one were a deep and honest theologian, one would know that there is a great beauty and spiritual necessity for good Marian devotion too.
I believe that most of us are in need of a spirituality that has a humanism that speaks at least to the romantic side of us. Marian devotion in particular speaks to the side of us that longs to be touched and the feminine in Mary does that in ways that Eucharist does, but perhaps on the level of the cerebral. Mary touches us in the heart.
When we lose sight of Mary, we can end up being cold and wooden. Do you notice that in any Marian apparition in the world, she somehow doesn’t appear to the rich, the well educated and the theologians? Instead, she has always appeared to the poor, the uneducated, the children and those at the bottom. That tells us that if we lose Mary, we may lose our heart. A heart for the poor, a heart for the masses, and a heart that makes us human.