Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mary and the Place of Faith

            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?

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Corporate Takeover of Mary

In class, we left off by considering the Church’s developing role as a corporation in modern times.  Revisionist histories of Mary (such as Henry Adams’s popular one) saw Mary as a popular force largely outside of the control of the Church; thus, subsequent Church constitutions needed to reaffirm their control over Mary.  This blog post will explore how modern Church leaders used Mary to cement Church hierarchy and reassert Church power.

The Church was facing a new school of thought around Mary that made them look weak.  Henry Adams’s writings on Mary typified this ahistorical, but common, modern take.  He claimed there was a popular tradition of “the power of Mary as Queen” which was at odds with “orthodox church-conception of the Virgin’s legitimate station” (The Virgin of Chartres, 92-93).  This made the Church look like it could not control its followers.  If one believes Adams, Marian worship appears to be evidence of the Church leaders’ feebleness.  Furthermore, Adams asserted that historically Mary had been viewed as “Woman” and “Mother”, “functions, all, which priests could not perform” (98).  Gendering Mary sets her up as a force in opposition to male Church authority.  It precludes an understanding of Mary as creature that allows her to serve as a model for priests, and thus connected to approved Church worship procedure. 

Perhaps most dangerous for the Church, however, was Adams’ conception of Mary as “symbol or energy” (The Education of Henry Adams, 388).  As I argued in class, symbols, because of their abstract nature, can stand alone.  Mary the Symbol can be worshipped without tracing her role in scripture, her relationship with Christ, or her importance to Church doctrine.  For an example of this, see Adams’ description of Mary on page 88 of the “The Virgin of Chartres”; it personifies the symbol, but ruminates on her power without including almost any traditional Church teachings on Mary.  Mary the symbol could be divorced from the Church.

All of this created a strong incentive for the Church to want to take back control over the narratives around Mary.  Thus, while Pope Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus obviously does not directly reference Adams, one can see reactionary lines of thought in it.  It makes the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven into an official church teaching.  Such a physical, embodied Mary is not a symbol but a creature.  She is dependent on Christ for the privilege of assumption, so once again worship of Mary can be seen as really worship of Christ, not its own cult.      

I found the most striking part of the Munificentissimus Deus, however, to be how it laid claim to the Church’s supreme teaching authority and the Church’s special relationship to God.  In Paragraph 6, Pope Pius XII claims that “the minds of the faithful were filled with a stronger hope that the day might soon come when the dogma of the Virgin Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven would also be defined by the Church's supreme teaching authority.”  This is a claim that there is a desire for Vatican Council leadership, and that there is popular dissatisfaction with doing things just because it is popular tradition and not Church doctrine.  Then, in paragraph 12, he goes on to write that “This ‘outstanding agreement of the Catholic prelates and the faithful,’ affirming that the bodily Assumption of God's Mother into heaven can be defined as a dogma of faith, since it shows us the concordant teaching of the Church's ordinary doctrinal authority and the concordant faith of the Christian people which the same doctrinal authority sustains and directs, thus by itself and in an entirely certain and infallible way, manifests this privilege as a truth revealed by God and contained in that divine deposit which Christ has delivered to his Spouse to be guarded faithfully and to be taught infallibly.”  This denies the existence of divergent popular and Church traditions around Mary.  More specifically, popular belief is subsumed into the power of the Church, because while God has put the beliefs into the minds of both the ordinary faithful and Church leaders, the Church is identified as God’s chosen originating source of them: “For, as the Vatican Council asserts, "all those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are proposed by the Church, either in solemn judgment or in its ordinary and universal teaching office, as divinely revealed truths which must be believed’”.

It is also noteworthy that Paragraph 12 includes three citations to other Vatican Council Constitutions.  This works to strengthen the importance of these constitutions and establish a thread through time connecting these pronouncements.  The Church authority is placing itself at the center of the faith.  The Munificentissimus Deus continues this by going on to provide a detailed, long history of a Church tradition of belief in the assumption. This counters Adams’s history by showing that Church has always been the leader on Mary and the controller of her legacy.

Next, in 1964, came the Lumen Gentium.  Some see it as contradictory to the Munificentissimus Deus because they see the Munificentissimus Deus as expanding the importance of Mary, while the Lumen Gentium stresses the “subordinate role of Mary” (par. 62) to Christ.  However, if you buy my above arguments about how Church authority is built through releasing doctrine around the Assumption, the Lumen Gentium appears to be a natural progression from earlier Vatican Council constitutions.  It acts to further Church leadership ownership over Marian tradition by asserting that official doctrine should be the source of beliefs around Mary.  By lumping its proclamations about Mary in with lots of others, it denies that the thread of Marian worship is separate from the history of the Church and its teachings. 

Turning to the actual content of the chapter on Mary, it focuses on Mary as Church, meaning that worship of Mary will be an act of devotion towards the Church. Additionally, if Mary is the Church, she cannot be a symbol.  By urging theologians to “abstain zealously… from all gross exaggerations” about Mary, Church officials chastise those who would worship Mary in ways that do not support Church hierarchy.

Adam’s “popular faith” view of Marian worship may be ahistorical, but what the Church does in these constitutions is also fundamentally new.  In the past, theology around Mary has been developed by priests, etc.; now it is held to be the purview of the Pope and the Church’s other highest authorities.  In the new corporate model of church hierarchy, power is concentrated at the top.  As we have seen time and time again in this class, Mary is a battleground for carrying out broader shifts in theology and the Church.    

Commenters: What part of the constitutions on Mary stood out to you?  Do you agree that they represent a corporate shift in who controls doctrine around Mary?


Henry Adams, Pius XII, and Modernity

     In class, we got swept up in the novelty of Henry Adams’s depiction of Mary as a symbol, her sex, or a force; I think this distracted us from Adams’s deepest concerns. Although he significantly misunderstands the tradition, that would be of no surprise to him, since his primary experience of the Marian tradition is alienation. Of the “highest energy ever known to man, the creator of four-fifths of his noblest art,” Adams “knew something of the facts, but nothing of the feelings; he read the letter, but he never felt the law. Before this historical chasm, a mind like that of Adams felt itself helpless” (The Education of Henry Adams, 384-5). While deeply aware of, and overcome by, the Virgin’s significance, he feels unable to access her like the cathedral-builders did - he almost envies them: “illusion for illusion, - granting for the moment that Mary was an illusion, - the Virgin Mother in this instance repaid her worshippers a larger return for their money than the capitalist has ever been able to get” (Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, 96-97). Despite this attraction, Adams hardly seems to entertain any doubt that the “illusion” could be anything else. For him “poetry which was regarded as mystical in its age and which now sounds like a nursery rhyme” has been ruined by objective advancements in knowledge in taste (Chartres, 94). He makes no effort to recover the tradition intellectually because he assumes that cause is lost. At most, he can hope to feel something of what others felt: “we are not now seeking religion; indeed, true religion generally comes unsought. We are trying only to feel Gothic art” (Chartres, 105).
     This is not to say that Adams is a devotee of any particular philosophical trend of his day. He doubts the possibility of anyone accessing the truth, so he looks benignly on the apparent flaws of Medieval Christianity: “all theology and philosophy are full of contradictions quite as flagrant and far less sympathetic” (Chartres, 95). The greatest influence on Adams is, at this point, that of modern science. Troubled by new discoveries and doctrines, such as Darwin’s, he struggles to see any true meaning in the world. He sees it as amoral, and he envies the Medievals for their ignorance of this fact. His unmooring is revealed in his inability to understand even his area of expertise, history. Although he tries to “follow the track of the energy” of the Virgin through history, Adams finds that the result “depends more on what is struck out than on what is left in: on the sequence of the main lines of thought than on their play or variety” (389-390). He can identify no causation in history, never mind direction or meaning. We somehow arrived where we are, and that is not a very good thing in his view. In commenting on the architecture, he comments on modernity:

“every day, as the work went on, the Virgin was present, directing the architects, and it is that direction that we are going to study, if you have now got a realizing sense of what it meant. Without this sense, the church is dead. Most persons of a deeply religious nature would tell you emphatically that nine churches out of ten actually were dead-born, after the thirteenth century, and that church architecture became a pure matter of mechanism and mathematics” (Chartres, 102).

Since, according to Adams, this religious sense that inspired Chartres is dead, the human accomplishments of his day must be understood as an uninspired “matter of mechanism and mathematics.” For this reason, he likes the Virgin best of all his forces: “Adams knew nothing about any of them, but as a mathematical problem of influence on human progress, though all were occult, all reached on his mind, and he rather inclined to think the Virgin easiest to handle” (Education, 389). However, this preference is in some sense disingenuous. While he sees the Virgin “looking down from a deserted heaven, into an empty church, on a dead faith” (Chartres, 186), the dynamo is still mysterious and powerful. It frightens him, and it promises an uncertain future. He is overcome by it, and “before the end, [he] began to pray to it; inherited instinct taught the natural expression of man before silent and infinite force” (Education, 380) Although he does not love the dynamo, Adams believes it is alive and the Virgin is dead.
     Once it is clear that Adams is responding to a new state in human knowledge, Munificentissimus Deus appears to be almost a direct response. Although Pius XII is writing ostensibly about Mary, he explicitly grounds the constitution in recent history: “Just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severed calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue” (2). To any reader in 1950, the context would be obvious: Two World Wars, the Holocaust, an economic depression, the rise of communism. Pius XII believes these events were made possible by materialism, and he sees that their horror makes people question whether there is any meaning, any moral force to the universe. His dogmatic definition, while in content Marian, is ultimately a statement about humans and their relationship to the world: “Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective” (42). In addition, Pius XII implicitly responds to Adams’s concerns in the body of the constitution. By grounding the definition in history the liturgy, nearly all of the Doctors of the Church, and the Bible, he demonstrates the reasonability of belief, as well as its constancy throughout history. Where Adams is adrift in a sea of doubt and confusion produced by modernity, Pius XII offers the Church, guided by Mary, as a latter day Noah’s ark:

“Since the universal Church, within which dwells the Spirit of Truth who infallibly directs it toward an ever more perfect knowledge of the revealed truths, has expressed its own belief many times over the course of the centuries, and since the bishops of the entire world are almost unanimously petitioning that the truth of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven should be defined as a dogma of divine and Catholic faith—this truth which is based on the Sacred Writings, which is thoroughly rooted in the minds of the faithful, which has been approved in ecclesiastical worship form the most remote times, which is completely in harmony with the other revealed truths, and which has beene expounded and explained magnificently in the work, the science, and the wisdom of the theologians – we believe that the moment appointed in the plan of divine providence for the solemn proclamation of this outstanding privilege of the Virgin Mary has already arrive” (41).


Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Church on Mary as the Temple, Queen, and Wisdom

    We talked a lot in class about the way that Henry Adams describes the Virgin Mary as a symbol, rather than someone who simply is, and the way this changes her essence. However, in my own reading of the Adams’ pieces I think there is an undeniable tension in the way he views Mary – that perhaps he cannot quite decide upon who she is to him. While he does give much exploration to the idea of Mary as a symbol and force and that at times Mary has overshadowed the Trinity in people’s devotion to her (90), upon further reading I got the impression that in her popularity Mary became a way for people to interact with the Divine. He references Mary as the Temple of the Trinity, the Church in which the Trinity is absorbed (95). Even the hymns and poems that he cites contain Marian language that has become quite familiar over the course of this class; Mary is emphasized as mother of Christ and the Word, a path of heaven, home of the Triune God, an imperial abode (93-94). There is even the idea that through Chartres we are surrounded most apparently by Mary, who in turn is the one who presents the Son, and it is Christ who is representative of the Trinity, which coming full circle, finds its home within Mary (100). In that line of thought, then, is a church built in Mary’s honor better suited for allowing the laity to access the Divine because it mirrors the way in which Mary is actually the Temple of the Trinity?
    Even beyond the Temple language, Adams also references Mary’s relationship with Wisdom, in a way that calls to mind my question from last week’s readings from The Mystical City of God – is Mary the Temple for Wisdom, as well as for Christ? The Adams reading answers this question in the affirmative when it talks about how the medieval people saw the Virgin: “’Wisdom has built herself a house, and has sculptured seven columns.’  That house is the blessed Virgin; the seven columns are the liberal arts. Mary therefore has the perfect mastery of science,” (91). Adams acknowledges the existence of these Old Testament interpretations of the Virgin Mary as part of medieval Marian tradition, and recognizes the role Chartres plays in representing these roles of Mary in that it makes the seven liberal arts as part of Mary’s person and the church functions as a portal for its parishioners to access the Divine through Mary.
    Interesting, though, is that even though Adams addresses all of these aspects of Mary as the Temple and queen, he also makes the claim that the Church has always been at odds with these interpretations of Mary, which he says come from the laity. Yet he quotes members of the Church, like Bernard of Clairvoux, for his evidence of the temple and queenly language in regards to the Virgin. And what’s more, we see in the papal documents that even the Church in 20th century did agree with those same Temple and queen comparisons. Actually, something that surprised me somewhat in our readings from Tuesday was just how much the papal documents seem to agree with the major interpretations of Mary in Scripture that we have been reading about, despite the fact that from the handout of the first day we know that many of those interpretations don’t fall under the modern list of where Mary can be found in Scripture. The papal documents embrace the role of Mary as Temple even more so than Adams, I think, in that they don’t use the same symbol language when describing; rather, Mary is the Temple, the ark, the queen, and made in God’s likeness. Where I see Adams struggling with whether Mary is what medieval Europeans thought she was or whether she symbolizes something else, the Church in contrast very definitively states that Mary is that Temple and presenter of the Divine.
    Particularly in the M[u]nificentissimus Deus, we see lots of temple language as support to the tradition that Mary’s body was also assumed into heaven, like her soul. Perhaps most convincing in this argument, and clear in the belief that Mary is the temple, is St. Bellarmine’s testimony: “And who, I ask, could believe that the ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin?” (Item 34). However, not only do we see this agreement of Mary as temple, but there are also points in the Lumen Gentium that argue to Mary being queen and made to be like Christ, much in the same way that Christ makes Mary, his beloved, like him in The Mystical City of God. The Church states in this document that upon her assumption, Mary was “exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be there more fully conformed to her Son,” (Item 59), and later that the Word is echoed in Mary, and so the Church rightly looks to her that through following her example and understanding her favor from God, Christ “may be born and may increase in the hearts of the faithful” (Item 65). In all of these ways, it seems the Church is in agreement with the Mary of the early to middle ages; yet the one point I do not see an expected connection is between Mary and Wisdom. In no place do these papal documents reference any sort of relationship between Mary and Wisdom like the one that Adams refers to. Rather, instead of suggesting that Mary was bestowed with extraordinary wisdom, the documents point out that there were things beyond her comprehension, namely when Jesus had “taken up with the things that were His Father’s business; and [Mary and Joseph] did not understand the word of their Son” (Item 57). How does this instance of Mary’s lack of knowledge and understanding stand in contrast to the way we have been talking about her in relation to Wisdom during this course? Or even more, what does this mean that this moment goes very much against the Mary described by Sister Mary of Agreda who is bestowed with all of the knowledge of the world and full understanding of the Divine?


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Church-Sanctioned Apparitions in 19th-Century France

       The phenomenon of Marian apparitions was first reported in the Middle Ages, but the number of alleged sightings of the Virgin increased dramatically around the 19th century. Whereas before Mary usually reportedly appeared to the consecrated religious, particularly nuns, the 19th century saw an increase in reports of poor peasant children, often shepherds or shepherdesses, claiming to have seen the Virgin Mary. Each claim was extensively evaluated by Church commissions—children were interviewed many times and local clergy would report to their bishops as officials tried to piece together the story—so that stories might be formally recognized. This process is a feature of the “modern” era, where scepticism was more rampant and the Church had to avoid being perceived either as too credulous of local superstition or as suppressing the faith of the laity. In class, we emphasized that only 12 out of 295 total supposed visions of Mary were Church-sanctioned. The apparitions at Lourdes and La Salette, since both occurred around the same time and were approved by the towns’ respective bishops, must therefore indicate what attributes a vision must have in order to be considered believable. What did it take for a Marian apparition to be sanctioned by the Church in mid-19th century France?
       One place to begin is the nature of the seers of the apparitions. Unlike in medieval reports, such as testimonies like that of Elisabeth of Schonau, very poor children now claim to have seen the Virgin. Sandra L. Zimdars-Swartz’s Encountering Mary: from La Salette to Medjugorge has a strong focus on these seers, their background, and character—fundamentally important traits in considering such miracles. These children—Mélanie and Maximin at La Salette, and Bernadette at Lourdes—share some important characteristics that could indicate why their testimony was believed. Members of religious orders are very well-educated and familiar with the Catholic canon and its iconography, and this knowledge can provoke suspicion, as they could better fabricate a story or project imagery they are intimately familiar with onto some kind of hallucination. Mélanie and Maximin, however, are both illiterate, and Maximin learns a few prayers “only with a great degree of difficulty,” while Mélanie uses the Lord’s name in vain upon seeing the apparition (28-29). Similarly, Bernadette was judged “stupid and incapable of learning her lessons” the first time an attempt was made to teach her the catechism (47). These children, by Zimdars-Swartz’s account, seem to know little about the teachings of the Church past whatever they picked up during the (presumable) weekly Mass. As shown in Bernadette’s case, though, being uneducated and poor inspired a “bourgeois class-prejudice” that engendered doubt that such “vile intermediaries” could see she who is “pure par excellence” (46). Albeit common “in the early records” of the investigations of such claims, classist derision did not overshadow the added credibility implicit in being a young, uneducated layperson, probably thus deemed unimaginative and too simple to be dishonest (46). 

       In a similar vein, the seers’ reactions to the apparitions could legitimize what they saw. Mélanie and Maximin do not at first recognize the Virgin as such, and refer to her only as a “beautiful lady” and initially interpret her prophecy—obviously, to a reader familiar with Christian doctrine, about Mary’s intercessory power and her son, Jesus—as a cry for help about domestic violence (31-32). Maximin even thinks she might be a villager from nearby Valjouffrey (31). The idea of the “beautiful lady” being, in fact, the Virgin was only promulgated once the mother of Mélanie’s employer suggested it (32). Their not recognizing the person “in the light” as Mary does raise a problem (29). The siblings’ failure to recognize the apparition as Mary either indicates that they did not claim to see an image they associate with the Virgin from popular iconography, thereby decreasing the likelihood that their story was fabricated, or it hints that whatever they saw was not Mary at all, but rather another kind of phenomenon. While the former possibility further evidences the legitimacy of their story, the latter raises the possibility that this apparition of the Virgin was just an embellishment made by adults. Similarly, Bernadette refers to her vision as “aquerò”, evidencing that she did not recognize her vision as Mary initially (47). It is possible that Bernadette herself suggested “this identification” later, a discovery which makes her story seem more genuine (49). She might have associated her vision of a very small Virgin with that of the tiny statues of Mary popular in the area, though the youthful apparition is a very different representation of Mary than the statues’ depiction of an older Virgin and child. Not describing her vision of Mary as a familiar image of the Virgin lessens the likelihood that she made her story up, while identifying her (according to one story) on her own makes her account all the more credible. 

       Other parallels in the two stories indicate why the Church sanctioned these two apparitions. Springs were discovered on both sites after the apparitions occurred that had celebrated healing powers (though some of these miracles were called into question by commissions). Both places, particularly Bernadette’s grotto during her fortnight of visions, became pilgrimage sites attracting thousands of visitors—a mass demonstration of faith that the Church would be hard-pressed to deny. Naturally, in addition to different aspects of the apparitions, the proceedings of the Church’s investigation played an important role, though a more obvious one—the Church clearly did not find any significant discrepancies in from interviewing the seers, nor did they find any evidence of a local church trying to bring in money by establishing a pilgrimage site. 

       Both the La Salette and Lourdes apparitions feature different aspects that lend credibility to their claims. For example, Mélanie and Maximin’s report results in an increase in townspeople attending church; Bernadette is miraculously not burned by a candle and her vision of Mary declares herself to be “the Immaculate Conception,” corroborating a Church doctrine officially proclaimed by Pius IX four years earlier (56). It is difficult to say for sure what lead the Church to sanctify these two apparitions, particularly since the accounts of each are jumbled and probably inaccurate in some capacity, even when assembled together in modern scholarship. Though the nature of the seers and of their apparitions raises some questions, it also contributes to a new narrative of legitimacy: that of poor and uneducated children as those most likely to truly see Mary. Reports of miracles tangential to the apparition itself, though substantiated in varying degrees, also add to the legitimacy of these Church-sanctioned apparitions.


The Modern Mary- According to Local Circumstance

Something that I thought about that didn't come up in class was that the apparition of La Salette initially spoke to Melanie and Maximin in French. This is confusing because Melanie's French was imperfect, necessitating the apparition to switch over to their local dialect. If this really was the Virgin Mary, why would she have started speaking in a language that the children did not understand? For that matter, what she had to say to Melanie and Maximin was itself puzzling. The woman warned them of the town's godlessness and impending famine, but they were only children—and not especially devout children, at that. Melanie was described as "extremely lazy, disobedient, and sullen"; she was illiterate and not very knowledgeable of prayer. Maximin, in a similar vein, was "a reckless child, an innocent without malice but also without foresight." He was also illiterate and had only been taught a few prayers "with a great deal of difficulty." If the Virgin Mary had really appeared, why did she appear with such a portentous message to two children who weren't exactly model Catholics?
The nature of the message's delivery was also unlike previous appearances of Mary that we have seen this quarter. She said:

"If you have wheat, it is not good to sow it. All that you will sow, the beasts will eat, and that which remains the beasts will not dare to eat... A great famine will come. Before the famine comes, the children under seven years of age will be seized by trembling and they will die in the hands of those who hold them..."

This sounds to me nothing like the benevolent, radiant maternal figure of previous visions and encounters. Rather, it reminds me of the more wrathful Old Testament God. Why was there this sudden and dramatic shift in the tone of the apparition—now somewhat fallible, having initially tried communicating in a language that the children did not understand? The message in the event seemed to have been ignored by the population; there was no large scale attempt by the clergy to use it to rally religious fervor, and it seems that there was little panic caused by the prediction of hardship. Rather, one of the features of the apparition that contributed most to its popularity was the miraculous healing spring.
The message delivered by the apparition at Lourdes made me think along similar lines. Among some of Mary's most extolled virtues were her humility in our earlier readings; although the vision that appeared to Bernadette was not as wrathful as the one that spoke to Melanie and Maximin, it seemed to lack that humility. It reportedly had said: "I am the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. I want a chapel built on this very spot." Demanding the construction of a chapel doesn't strike me as particularly humble. What changed, then, in the image of Mary and the nature of her popular cult? As the world entered the age of modernity, it seemed that not only did visions of the Virgin Mary begin appearing to less educated people and become more accessible to people without a strict religious background and education, but her messages also began to shift, losing some of their old maternal quality.
Some of the changes in her appearances' receptions may have been due to simple practicality. Unlike previous writers who we have read, the children at La Salette, Lourdes and Fatima came from poor and troubled backgrounds. They (and those close to them) had little time, much less the religious education and upbringing in some instances, to properly receive and digest the visions as Maria de Agreda had done, and in any case had other things to worry about. For instance, one of the reasons that Lucia's visions created a rift between her and her mother was that one of the effects of the visions was to hurt them economically. "Lucia's sisters... found themselves, after the onset of the apparition, spending a large amount of time dealing with the people who wanted to speak with Lucia and watching the sheep in her place so that she could spend time with these people herself... These were matters of considerable importance, at a time of general economic distress, for a family who had only limited resources to start with..."
This unfortunate practicality stemming from the children's backgrounds was not the only new aspect of Marian devotion in the "modern" world. As Marian and Christian devotion became more "decentralized" and prominent in local, small towns and villages, the effects of their smallness became more evident. Melanie and Maximin were not fluent in French; there has also been some discussion over the vision at Lourdes and how it fit into local Pyrenean religion. "Although [Bernadette's] apparition bore little resemblance to orthodox Marian imagery, its similarities with mythical creatures of Pyrenean folklore were much more marked... Bernadette chose the term used to describe fairies, the little women of the forest." What Bernadette saw was a little girl—a child like herself, not a maternal figure at all. Nonetheless, the events at Lourdes were eventually accepted by the Catholic Church, Bernadette was later canonized as a saint and the shrine requested by the apparition was built.

Modernity, then—much had changed over the course of the centuries. Visible instances Marian devotion had spread to a much wider social strata, and the nature of the appearances had changed to reflect differences between locales and the unique socioeconomic circumstances of any particular visionary. That these apparitions were accepted by the authorities indicates that these changes were recognized by the Catholic Church, as well.