One important and key element that has not factored into our discussion of Mary thus far this quarter is faith. Tuesday’s readings, along with the previous miracle/apparition story readings, call for faith to be added to the discussion and considered along with the material we have covered. We have been taking a scholarly approach to Mary and Marian devotion, trying to understand sources of devotion to Mary, images that represent her and motivations for serving her. However, without considering faith we cannot have a full understanding of what we have studied for none of these practices would be possible without faith. Faith is the gift of believing in something you haven’t seen, belief without proof. Following Christ and following Mary requires just that.
From Henry Adams’s writings we know that he lacked faith, but grasped its force, importance and its necessity to understand something like the great cathedral at Chartres. Adams writes, “If you are to get the full enjoyment of Chartres, you must, for the time, believe in Mary as Bernard and Adam did, and feel her presence as the architects did, in every stone they placed, and every touch they chiseled”. It is only by believing in Mary that someone could devote themselves to an endeavor as crazy as that of building Chartres. Faith then is the foundation from which springs any number of otherwise seemingly inexplicable acts from tumbling to following a strict schedule of devotional hours, to sticking to a story for which you are ridiculed.
But, faith is not applied equally to everyone. Again, Adams points out that “the force of the Virgin was still felt at Lourdes…but in America neither Venus nor Virgin ever had value as force”. Adams posits that the American character that ignores sex and the force of reproduction, which is closely associated with Mary, makes the American people indisposed to the power of the Virgin. Adams makes a claim on a whole people who is incapable of feeling the force of the Virgin and are thus indisposed to receive faith. The same can be said however, for many in the apparition stories we read. Faith is a key element to understanding these stories.
Mary does not discriminate when appearing or manifesting herself as the degrees of faith and characteristics of Melanie and Maximim at La Salette were different than that of Juan Diego in Mexico. Mary is willing to make herself available to anyone, but the belief or growth in faith depends on the response of the receiver. Many who were close to the apparitions were indisposed to receive faith and thus believe in the apparitions. Even the mothers of some of the children privileged to these sightings doubted. For these people, they lacked the foundation of faith necessary accept this miraculous appearance that many around them, on the other hand, were ready to believe.
The Church and the faithful seem to always struggle with faith and disbelief. The Papal documents we read show how this struggle is present even in most recent times. Munificentissimus Deus which defines the dogma of Mary’s assumption opens by outlining the Church’s longstanding belief in this dogma. By citing religious institutes, names of churches and special liturgical offices the Church is trying to show how for years members of the Church have put this belief into action. It could be said for many things, but speaking about the liturgy in general the document reads that “the liturgy of the Church does not engender the Catholic faith, but rather springs from it”. This is a re-echoing of Adams observation that from faith great things spring up. The many elements of Church life that have adopted the doctrine of the Assumption are not what shape the faith, rather they have all been given life from faith and a specific faith in this certain doctrine.
Even in Lumen Gentium in the section outlining doctrine on Mary and proper devotion everything comes down to rest on faith. The council Fathers write “that true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues”. So one can try to understand Mary, use her as a role model and take advantage of her position in the story of salvation but this would not be “true devotion” if one lacked “true faith”. But, as we have seen not everyone has this true faith and there seems to be no one way to acquire it. People who have had miraculous apparitions occur on their doorsteps even then don’t always begin to believe.
It seems to me important to consider who is given this true faith, who allows themselves to be touched by the force of the Virgin and what the effects are. For example the Bishop in the story of Juan Diego didn’t have faith right away, as he required a sign as a condition for belief. This led to the great image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and goes to show that just because you are in the Church hierarchy doesn’t mean your faith will be 100% solid all the time. The same can be said for the papal documents. How much was motivated by faith in the doctrines outlined and how much was thoroughly explained as a response to a lack of faith? I think the documents attempt to make a person disposed to receive faith by clearing away their ignorance and showing examples of faith in action, but ultimately it seems that a person cannot just will themselves to have faith.
And so I have to wonder, can you properly study Mary without faith as I suspect many in this class have done? What happens when you take Adams’s advice to believe in Mary for a time to get the full enjoyment and understanding? Or, is there no place for faith in a scholarly assessment of Mary?