Mary has an important role in the New Evangelization. I think that is easy enough to accept, but in what way, and how is her role engaged in the New Evangelization? That is not always clear to me.
Isn’t the New Evangelization Christocentric? Does Marian devotion prove problematic to fallen away Catholics, particularly those who have become Evangelical? Wouldn’t Mary want us to keep the focus on Christ?
Old Devotion & Renewal
Looking at the history of many of our “Old Devotions,” one will find that these devotions were always connected to Church renewal.
For instance, the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy Devotions are rooted in appearances of Jesus to Saints Margaret Mary and Faustina respectively. Each of these devotions were characterized by a specific practice, making the experience of the faith highly tangible and personal.
For instance, First Fridays mark a personal renewal with a reception of the Sacraments, or 3 p.m. marks a pause from your business to pray. Even if there were no authoritative apparitions, these devotions are already scriptural and in harmony with the Tradition of the Church.
The same could be said of the many Marian apparitions in recent history. The People of God’s fall into apathy is not some sort of post-modern, or Post-Vatican II, or post-social media phenomenon. As it has been the case, particularly marked by appearances of Our Lady in Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima, the encounter with the transcendent Divine Lord is localized.
The pilgrims can take confidence and comfort in an encounter with the Mysterious Lord in a specific place. In addition to the grace of renewal in a pilgrimage, devotions are heightened by specific days and objects, such as First Saturdays, and other Sacramentals.
The Loss of Traditional Devotions
Condescending stereotypes of traditional devotions abound inside and outside the Church. They are for your grandmother. They are for superstitious folk. They are for the Scripturally ignorant. They want to replace Christ. And on…and on…and on.
Often, though, the Rosary, Benediction, and other devotions are not dismissed for any of the previously mentioned reasons, they are dismissed for not being open-ended enough.
Prayer is often taught in terms of, “Do what feels good… Let the Spirit lead you…” Although I sometimes prefer to keep things open-ended, the discipline, training, and formula of prayer is taught in favor of not forcing people figure it out all by themselves. By keeping prayer absolutely fluid, disciples are not given anything by which to measure their prayer life outside of their feelings, and therefore cannot even have the advantage of confidence that they are making in any actual progress.
In contrast old devotions can be specific enough that someone can easily pick it up, and make it part of their life. Further, having a devotion that is already prescribed, does not keep it from being moved by the Spirit, or being open-ended and spontaneous.
One who is proficient in a formulaic prayer can always add silence or focus or a personal touch to certain moment of the Rosary, Adoration, spiritual reading, or the Divine Mercy Chaplet without having to abandon the practice altogether. Yet even getting there takes a familiarity and disciplined practice which is itself already a sign of personal renewal.
Public Devotions as an Alternative Venue
The current engagement among many Catholics with public or communal devotions is at a minimum. Therefore, most fallen-away Catholics probably don’t have a sour memory of the Rosary or Adoration. I never experienced them in my upbringing. Many of these same people may have memories of being violently pulled out of bed, and dragged into Mass, bored and falling asleep.
Therefore, I believe that bringing a friend to a group prayer of the Rosary or Adoration is probably more powerful than anything you would expect. Aside from the numerous testimonies I have heard over the years, it is already a brand new experience of religion for most people, new enough to pique their interest. (Check out the recent post here on New Evangelizers by Colleen Vermeulen: “No, Not a Wedding–A Eucharistic Procession”.)
It may be easier than throwing them into a group, circled in chairs, forcing them to “share” the faith they have no idea of how to articulate. Although, that is often what is done, bringing people to a prayer experience doesn’t require that they talk about things that they are unfamiliar with. Devotions are probably the least awkward, and perhaps one of the more exciting ways of drawing people in.
In the case of the Rosary, or First Saturday devotions, people can feel provoked in new ways to reflect on Mary, on Christ, and their relationship with them. They might be able to take something with them, a token if you will, a token to go on with their adventure, a token to remember that experience, a token to allow that experience to continue God’s provocative movements in our lives.
Copyright © 2013, Mark Menegatti