Pilgrimages, Apparitions and Popular Piety

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2001 »2001 2 »Pilgrimages Apparitions And Popular Piety

Kathleen Coyle, S.S.C.

Kathleen Coyle, a frequent contributor to the EAPR, is a Columban Sister and a faculty member of the East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila. She also lectures at Maryhill School of Theology and at the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies in Manila.
 

THE UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE OF PILGRIMAGE

The number of pilgrims that flock to the world’s major shrines is increasing today as are the journals and papers from these centers which print devout articles and sermons delivered there on feast days. Because of the growing enthusiasm formarian apparitions and visions, and the constant stream of pilgrims to marian shrines, we will first examine the important role of pilgrimage in the Christian tradition. It is one of the oldest physical spiritual exercises of humanity and of the Christian tradition. It could be described as the setting forth of an individual or a group on a journey to a chosen place in order to ask God or the saint at the particular place for aid in a variety of concerns. Pilgrimage is an outer and an inner journey; it offers time and space for discovery, discernment, healing and illumination. It is a journey, a search for the sacred.

Pilgrimage is universal. It knows no cultural, religious or geographical bounds. The experience of going on a sacred journey has accompanied the formation and renewal of people throughout history. The pilgrim leaves home, travels to a sacred place to gain physical and spiritual healing and hopes even for a direct experience of the sacred, so that life can be renewed. The pilgrim encounters the silences and the symbols of the pilgrimage, a sense of bonding with other pilgrims and a deep sense of relationship with God. The experience of pilgrims changes them in unsuspected ways so that they return to ordinary life with new hope and inspiration. Often the pilgrim cannot express the depth of his or her search in words. The pilgrimage itself is as important as the experience of the sacred at the shrine. Richard Niebuhr describes pilgrims as “people in motion

 passing through territories not their own, seeking something we might call completion … a goal to which the spirit’s compass points the way” (Clift & Clift,1 2).

Anthropologists have pointed out that pilgrimage has the three stage form of a rite of passage: separation at the start of the journey which often involves geographical and social separation; the liminal stage which includes the journey itself, the time at the shrine, the encounter with the sacred and reflection on the meaning of life; the homecoming when one is ready to face the routines and rigors of life with a new sense of hope and meaning (Concilium, 14).

PARALLELS IN ALL RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS

There is an underlying pattern and parallels of human experience in all pilgrimage traditions--Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Shinto, etc. There are parallels of spiritual experience across traditions. Hindus journey to sacred rivers of which bathing in the Ganges is the most famous. Islam has the hajj to Mecca. Islam holds that Abraham and his son Ishmael were the first pilgrims. In 1994, two and a half million people made the journey to Mecca. Medina is said to be the place where Abraham began his own “Farewell Pilgrimage.” Kumbh Mela, is the greatest pilgrimage and festival in the Hindu religious calendar. It takes place every twelve years at the confluence of the Ganges and Yumana rivers and attracts more than fifty million people who purify themselves by bathing in the waters to break the cycle of reincarnation. In Judaism the journeys of Abraham, Moses and Joseph were memorialized by altars which became collective pilgrimage sites. The Temple which housed the Ark of the Covenant was the most prominent pilgrimage site for the Jewish people.

Pilgrimage has always remained important in Catholicism. The earliest shrines inWestern Europe developed around cemeteries where martyrs were buried outside the walls of the Roman cities. For those early Christians the saint or holy person was believed to be present in some sense in his or her mortal remains and any object that touched the saint's tomb or relic acquired some heavenly power (Clift & Clift, 29). Visits to the Holy Land began very early and grew in strength after Christianity was legalized by the Emperor Constantine in the year 313. His mother, the Empress Helena, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the year 326.

DRAWING NEAR TO THE SACRED

The inner journey, the inner life and mystery is the same for all. We long to touch holy ground. The human psyche reaches for concrete symbols when it tries to express its experience of the holy. In Israel it was the ark and the temple; in Christianity it is the church, the sacraments and sacramentals. The temple and the church are holy ground, where one experiences the divine in a special way. People wish to draw near to the sacred, to achieve pardon, to hope and ask for a miracle, to answer a sense of inner call, to honor a vow made in response to an extreme situation. Pilgrims want personal touch with the site  the brass toe of the statue of St. Peter in Rome is shiny from pilgrim’s touch! Karl Jung describes pilgrimage as an archetype, that is, a universal pattern common to humanity throughout history, so some similarity in purpose or in what generally happens to the individual seems likely, regardless of the particular destination or focus of the pilgrimage. Regarding the religious experience of the pilgrim, Jung says that no matter what the world thinks about it, the one who has it possesses a great treasure which gives meaning and beauty and offers a new splendor to the world and to humankind. It is a grace from God (Clift & Clift, 42).

THE SPIRITUALITY OF PILGRIMAGE

The spiritual journey for Christians is to follow Christ himself in a discipleship that involves imitation, intimacy and service. Conversion implies change; change implies movement; movement evokes pilgrimage. The New Testament makes it clear that the experience of meeting Jesus is an invitation to significant transformation, a summons to “Follow Me!” Jesus’ own journey was a journey of kenosis, the selfemptying of the Divine Son. Like Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, pilgrims freely converse with strangers about what is happening in their lives and reflect on the meaning of the scriptures in the light of these events.

In Christendom monastic contemplatives and mystics were concerned about daily interior salvific journeys and mystical surrender to God. For the laity pilgrimage was the great liminal experience of the religious life. Victor and Edith Turner state it succinctly: “if mysticism is an interior pilgrimage, pilgrimage is exteriorized mysticism”(Turner, 205

206). The silence and the spiritual experience on the journey prepares a person for the gift of God which takes place in “sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). In intimacy with God through reflection and contemplation one hopes to come into rhythm with one's life in God.

THE IMPORTANCE OF RITUAL

At the holy shrine or site the pilgrim takes part in ritual actions which help him or her experience the sacred. In Catholic pilgrimages these ritual actions include processions, blessing with holy water, the celebration of the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick. Because ritual makes use of symbols, songs and other mediating images it evokes emotional meanings and values that motivate daily living. Ritual is so expressive that its mystery communicates itself, it speaks to both body and soul. Every gesture is a symbol

motion that puts the pilgrim in touch with the sacred and helps him or her experience that sacredness in visible form. It is a reminder that one lives on the threshold of time and eternity and a help to awaken the pilgrim to the mystery of his or her life. Souvenirs from the pilgrimage serve to make the pilgrimage experience still present long after the pilgrimage is over.

SITES OF PILGRIMAGE

Sites of pilgrimage are believed to be places where miracles once happened, or may happen again. They represent a “tear in the veil” that separates heaven from earth (Turner, 7). The pilgrim visits a holy site or holy shrine. When a pilgrimage system becomes established, it operates like other social institutions. Liturgies and devotional services at the sites of pilgrimage are structured, and sometimes seasons of pilgrimage are established to cater to the large number of pilgrims. However pilgrimage ideally is charismatic. It is a pilgrim’s decision or personal response to a charism. Therefore orthodox religion tends to be ambivalent towards it. In most pilgrimages magical beliefs abound: beliefs in relics, images and the efficacy of water from sacred springs, but these only benefit the pilgrim who has had a conversion of heart.

It is an interesting phenomenon that since the middle ages the majority of Catholic pilgrimages have been to marian shrines. In the Philippines, the veneration of Mary has taken the form of visiting marian shrines, particularly, those of Antipolo, Manaog and Baclaran. In Pakistan, the national marian shrine at Miriarnabad draws large numbers of pilgrims annually, both Muslim and Christian. Vietnamese Catholics are celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of what they believe was an apparition of the Virgin Mary at La Nang to help them while they were being persecuted for their faith. The shrine of Sheshen near Shanghai is visited by pilgrims, not only from the China mainland, but also from Taiwan and Hong Kong. The shrine of Seiko no Akibo is an important marian shrine in northern Japan.

POPULAR RELIGIOSITY, APPARITIONS AND VISIONS

Popular religion is intensely human and emotionally charged, yet tends to be uncritical in accepting propositions of faith. It often seeks tangible proof, like physical signs and wonders, as a sign of the presence of the divine. Pilgrim shrines and the miracles that happen there, affirm the presence of the divine. The apparitions are usually experienced by the poor, mostly poor women and the young, and the theophanies are described in great detail. The poor cling to the church as a conduit of comfort and consolation, of support and salvation. Since God has intervened in human history in the past, there is an implicit hope that God may do so again.

Recently in Java, Indonesia, a black smoky cloud, allegedly resembling the head of Jesus has appeared over a local house and has reportedly settled over the nearby church. Local Christians have hailed the apparition as a miracle and thousands have come on pilgrimage to the church. As one pilgrim said: “I haven't been able to see it but I know it is real” Violence against Indonesian Christians in this predominantly Muslim country is real. It has been documented that 175 churches have been burned in the past year and a half, over four thousand Christians have been killed and it is claimed that hundreds of others have been forcibly converted to Islam and circumcised. A local pastor reports that he has never seen such fervor and fanaticism and explains that the people are focusing on interior religious life because the world outside is so dangerous. Raymond Brown worries about a history that is ‘studded with the divine’:

In times past it was expected that the marvelous should accompany God's actions among men, and the miraculous supported faith. In recent times, however, the miraculous has created suspicion among many Christians. This is more than mere rationalism or the association of the miraculous with the credulous. Rather it stems from an appreciation of what is truly unique in the JudeoChristian tradition, namely, a conviction that God has been operative in human history like our own. A history studded with the miraculous is not the history we live in.

Latin American theologians reflecting on the religious experience of the poor and especially of exploited women, are concerned with how marginalized people’s experience of the divine is shaped by poverty, injustice and insecurity. They explain that something extraordinary happens on the level of human relationships. When normal words and gestures are no longer convincing, the 'divine' moves in to say what the human heart already knows, but is not being heeded: “(the) theophany is the great poetry of human beings; it is the most advanced use of symbols and sometimes of the prophetic ability to denounce existing evil and to demand that justice be restored” (Gebara & Bingemer, 147-148). Therefore in the apparitions “a constant is the ‘extraordinary’ element that breaks up the ordinariness of fife and interferes with the normal functioning of nature” (Bingemer, 148).

MARIAN APPARITIONS

An apparition refers to a supernatural vision that is bodily visible. Throughout history the faithful have constantly venerated Mary and turned to her in time of need to seek her help and mercy and certain Christians have claimed that she has manifested herself to them. From the year 1000-1200 faith in the patronage of the saint which had grown up around tombs and relics began to give way to the more effective and accessible powers of Mary. From the middle ages onwards, as devotion to the Blessed Virgin became an ever more integral part of Catholic devotional life, claims of marian apparitions or manifestations have become more widespread. In the marian apparitions, the visionary experiences something marvelous which was never before experienced. It is as if he or she is prepared to accept a great theophany and make radical life changes (Bingermer, 148). While there is a vast body of literature about marian apparitions, most of it is devotional or apologetic. Its authors are interested in defending and publicizing what they believe to be appearances of the Virgin Mary. Scholarly writings about apparitions are scarce. This makes it difficult for those who wish to study the nature of apparitions, and related phenomena, the socio-historical and religious contexts in which they occur, the world view of the devotees, and their relationship to Mary (or the saints). Such studies must explore the meaning of apparitions for the visionaries themselves and the process by which they draw meaning from the apparition experiences.

In many of the apparitions the relationship between the believer and God, or the believer and Mary is often a contractual one (in return for prayer, penance, or the fulfillment of a vow, God bestows favors). The incarnation on the other hand, emphasizes God's intervention in our world as compassion. And God enters human history when we defend the poor, give food to the hungry, work for peace and suffer for justice (Mt 25:3 146). God is not to be sought in the clouds as the men of Galilee thought (Acts 1: 10) but rather in caring for one another. Because God’s Word is enfleshed in our world all of reality is touched by God’s grace.

CERTAIN CONSTANTS IN THE MARIAN APPARITIONS

There are certain constants in the image of Mary as she is experienced by visionaries through the centuries. The first popular image of Mary has been that of healer and restorer of health. In the middle ages when medical knowledge was more limited, causes of many illnesses were unknown and were even seen as punishments for moral transgressions, people sought divine healing. Mary’s many shrines became places for seeking cures, and numerous miraculous healings have been attributed to her. Whether these cures came from natural or psychological means made no difference. They were accepted as miraculous by those who were relieved of their suffering. While modern advancement in medicine influences our assessment of contemporary healing, the claim of miraculous cures at marianshrines still persists, especially at Lourdes, for people continue to seek miracles when science fails to provide one.

Another constant in popular religious imagination is that Mary remains an intercessor between heaven and earth. Not only does she plead with God on our behalf but because she is God’s mother, she actually influences God’s judgments. As Mother of Mercy she uses her intercessory powers, and belief in her power to plead to God on our behalf has added to the popularity of her shrines, and the stories of miracles attached to them. The granting of plenary indulgences for participating in prescribed devotions is a guarantee that one’s sins were forgiven.

PROPHECIES IN NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURY APPARITIONS

Marian pilgrimages and images have had a dramatic resurgence in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In less than fifty years, from 1928-1971 a total of 210 apparitions have been cited. Whereas medieval pilgrimages began as local or regional devotions to Mary, post-industrial age pilgrimages owe their origin to a particular visionary or apparitional experiences. The story of Bernadette Soubirous, a poor peasant girl, who suffered from asthma all her life, and to whom Mary appeared at Lourdes in 1858, has gripped the imagination of the whole Catholic world. Encounters between peasants and the Mother of God were not rare in nineteenth century Europe, Bernadette represented a tradition of Pyrenean peasant seers stretching back over the centuries. Lourdes in the nineteenth century was poverty stricken and remote and was not serviced by churches, clinics or trains. It is claimed that increasing numbers of pilgrims who pray there experience repentance, reconciliation and healing. Mary’s repeated requests for repentance clearly reflect the nineteenth century sense of the reality of sin and contrasts the purity and beauty of Mary on the one hand, and the sinfulness and degradation of the sinner on the other. The message of the apparitions simply reinforce traditional doctrines. Some twelve years earlier, Our Lady at La Salette appeared to three young children asking them to pray faithfully and outlined the punishments the people would suffer because of their sins: harvests would fail and they would only have enough potatoes until Christmas! As in post-Medieval mariology, Mary’s difference from other Christians is emphasized, her powerful intercession contrasting with human helplessness and a world sunk in sin and unbelief. In 1917 the experience at Fatima in Portugal of three young children, caught the attention of a world at war. The children were granted apocalyptic visions and prophetic warnings. Eamonn Duffy comments:

Notoriously, the Virgin of Fatima was emphatically presented as a Cold Warrior, her message a fear-laden denunciation of Communism, laced with calls for Rosary Crusades as a counter-balance to ominous threats of nuclear war. Communist Russia was Mary's enemy, and so all those who combated Communism were her friends. I recall vividly reading pious pamphlets associated with support for right wing politics in the Iberian peninsula, a celestial endorsement of the regimes of Salazar and Franco (Duffy 1991:192).

Continuing his ideological refiection, this time on the Magnificat, Duffy adds that “in a mariology which endorsed right wing regimes so long as they were Catholic, the text could be recited by stony faced generalisimos without a qualm” because the enemies to be toppled were not earthly tyrants, they were heresies and errors, or personal sins (193). After the Fatima apparitions were authenticated in 1930 interest in them soon increased, especially with the coming of the second world war and the rise of the Soviet Union. Like the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century apparitions, the apparitions at Medjugorje in Yugoslavia in 1981 also involve prophecies, secrets, and admonitions to prayer and penance. These apparitions have helped to divinize Mary, while never stressing her active cooperation in Christ’s redemption. Nowhere in these manifestations does Mary remind us of the glory promised to all the saints. Nor do we find the joy of the revelations of the Blessed Virgin, shown to Julian of Norwich in the fourteenth century. Julian, commenting on God’s revelations to her, adds: “our Lord speaks to all mankind that shall be saved as it were all to one person, as if he said... Do you want to see in her how you are loved?  (Duffy 1991:193).

THE POPULAR APOCALYPTIC IDEOLOGY OF APPARITIONS

A discussion on modern apparitions calls for an examination of the world view of the participants in these apparitions. For many of them, Mary is the woman “clothed with the sun” (Rev 12) appearing in very troubled times. She appears pleading, threatening, weeping, and her messages and secrets are related to the contemporary world situation. Representing divine mercy, she intercedes with God or Christ and intervenes in history to change an otherwise predetermined course of events. Her apocalyptic warnings speak of chastisement for the sins of the world. God is portrayed as angry because humanity's sins have disrupted the established order and therefore his justice demands immediate chastisement, a chastisement that can be lessened by prayer and penance. War could be averted by fasting and prayer and people could be reconciled to God if they prayed, fasted and went to confession. John Shinners believes that such messages have as much to do with the visionaries' own perception of their world as about any special revelation. He sees millennial prophecies as…

reproofs against the existing social order. That order has either swept away or radically ordered cherished institutions and customs, or is corrupt and oppressive and therefore must be replaced by a just society, a utopia. Modern marian apparitions consistently see existing society as corrupted by change. They wax nostalgic for the stability, comfort, and predictability of tradition  especially Catholic tradition (Shinners, 196).

In spite of the apocalyptic warnings and the predictions of the demise of the world, Mary has remained intensely human, blending together the roles of mother and nurturer, comforter and counselor. It is her tender, forgiving and consoling characteristics that make her so easily approachable. She has remained, and ensures us that she will always remain very approachable.

THE LIBERATING MESSAGE OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE

In contrast to the apocalyptic messages of the nineteenth and twentieth century apparitions the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe mediates the compassionate reality of God in the form of a woman. Her all encompassing warmth and love convey a strength of presence and care. Devotion to her stands at the very origins of Mexican Christianity which sought indigenous religious expression. Tepeyac, the site of Mary’s apparition, had been the sacred site of Tonantzin, the Indian mother goddess from very ancient times. Located five miles from Mexico City, Tepeyac had been a site of pilgrimage for centuries, and people have come from far and near to worship the mother goddess. To San Diego, an Aztec Indian, Mary identified herself with the goddess of the subjugated people, not only in her body, language and clothing, but also in her choice of ancient Indian holy place and in the celestial symbols surrounding her.

It was at this site that Mary spoke to the people with tenderness, requested their cooperation, and asked them to become her missionaries. This message of hope came at a time when the Mexican nation was being exploited by the conquistadores, its native peoples enslaved, its women raped and degraded. The enslavement of the native peoples whose humanity was being debated, and the efforts to totally eradicate their religion brought the nation to the verge of despair. The crushed dignity of the people was restored in the person of Juan Diego, and through him they were called upon to be Mary's trusted messengers. In Mary, Mexican womanhood which had been prostituted against by the conquistadores, is once more restored to its original dignity. Speaking to San Diego with dignity and respect, she challenged the people to rise above their situation of marginalization and oppression, and to assume responsibility for their life and future. The symbol of Mary at Guadalupe carrying the Christ Child in her womb, offers the people new life and new hope, in the person of her Son, who is coming to be incarnated in their lives and culture. Elizabeth Johnson adds:

(She) combined the Indian female expression of God, which the Spanish had tried to wipe out as diabolical, with the Spanish male expression of God which the Indians had found incomprehensible (for everything which is perfect in the Nahuatl cosmovision has a male and female component). Each understanding of God was expanded by the other, yielding a new mestizo expression which enriches the very understanding of the selfhood of God (Johnson 1989:41).

The cult of our Lady of Guadalupe mediates the compassionate reality of God in the form of a woman. Her all encompassing warmth and love convey a strength of presence as well as care for the little ones. She has been an inspiration to the people in their continuing struggle towards the full realization of political and economic independence and indigenous religious expression. While the struggle for justice continues, this powerful symbol continues to be associated with the social and political liberation of the people, not only in Mexico, but throughout theAmericas.

The liberating message of Guadalupe lingers on and explodes with new meaning (Brueggemann, 180) as it is uttered again in the twenty first century by the poor ofLatin America, migrant mestizos, Asian emigrants and the Afro-American community. Barbara Pope notes that in contrast to the apparition of Guadalupe, the more recent nineteenth and twentieth century apparitions never carried a message of social transformation or the overcoming of exploitation and oppression.

On the other hand their political direction she argues, was always backward rather than forward (Pope, 195). Ann Carr commenting on this upsurge of apparitions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries notes that while they aroused great hopes and fears, and their sites attracted pilgrims from all walks of life, these apparitions helped to divinize Mary, while never stressing her active cooperation in Christ's redemption (Carr, 9).

THE RECENT UPSURGE OF MARIAN MANIFESTATIONS

However we may interpret the present phenomenon of marian manifestations and apparitions, and the stream of pilgrims to marian shrines, theologians ought to investigate the reasons why the Christian community is drawn to express its faith and devotion, both in belief in the apparitions of the Virgin, and in marian pilgrimages. Many of the apparitions have occurred, or continue to occur in countries of dire poverty, or where the socio-economic situation has been very bad. Mary's presence has been a sign of hope, and has offered comfort to people’s lives. Turner suggests that the recent trend may be a sign of.

... a resurgent “female” principle, after centuries of "male" iconoclasm, technical progress, bureaucratization, the conquest by reason and force of all natural vehicles. May we not retrace the history of Marian pilgrimage, woman’s progress from almost anonymous and faceless nurturant vehiclehood to an individuated, liberated femaleness, seen through the “masculine” eyes of Western culture as both nemesis and the coming of a new age? (Turner, 236).

THE CHURCH CALLS FOR CAUTION AND PRUDENCE

The person who goes on pilgrimage to a marian shrine may have a deep faith experience and return home with a sense of conversion and renewed commitment. However much approved by the church, these apparitions do not belong to what is called the “deposit of faith”, hence we will give them the same merely human credence that we give to any other statement we hold to be true. In private revelations the personality of the recipient plays an important role, and can influence even the most authentic experience.

The prerogative of investigating an apparition and of deciding whether it is worthy of “the assent of human faith” belongs officially to the bishop in whose diocese it has occurred. The church realizes only too well that vestiges of magic can be found not only in adults of today but also in advanced religions  in their doctrines and rituals. It therefore advises discernment and prudence. The Church cannot ignore phenomena, which a substantial number of people believe to be supernatural in essence, yet the danger that imaginative visions may be the product of abnormal psychological states is fully recognized and is carefully inquired into.

Even if an apparition has the approval of the church, we are not obliged to give it our consent if upon mature reflection we feel unable to believe in it. Edward Schillebeeckx points out that the church’s approval of an apparition or a private revelation is never an infallible proof of its historical truth and authenticity. It means that the church does not regard belief in the apparition to be misguided or harmful to the faithful. It also confirms as Schillebeeckx emphasizes that:

It is merely an official confirmation of the fact that sufficient evidence has emerged from the investigation to enable us to be cautiously certain in our acceptance of the divine authenticity of the apparition on rational grounds... the Church does no more than give her official permission that Mary may be venerated in a special way at the place where the apparition occurred, ...in her judgment, they are in no way contrary to faith and morals and that there are sufficient indications for their pious and cautious approval by human faith (Schillebeeckx, 197).

THE CHURCH’S TEACHING ON APPARITIONS

There is no definitive church teaching about what happens during an apparition. Some theologians suggest that an apparition is a manifestation of the charismatic element of the church in which a person’s imagination is inspired to receive a message from heaven. Others suggest that such an occurrence could be interpreted as the nearness of God to those who are outside the official channels of access to the holy. Although theologians may interpret the phenomenon in various ways, they accept that visions or apparitions, considered private revelations by the church’s magisterium, cannot add to or embellish the deposit of faith. If genuine, they can only enhance devotion to, and perhaps the understanding of faith. As with other devotional practices, however, official church approval does not require the faithful to believe in apparitions or in their historicity. They are to be respected in so far as they inspire people to deeper faith and consistent social action and they are to be judged by their fruits: love, justice and peace. Here is a word of caution from the U. S. Catholic Bishops:

Even when a private revelation has spread to the entire world, as in the case of Our Lady of Lourdes, and has been recognized in the liturgical calendar, the Church does not make mandatory the acceptance either of the original story or of particular forms of piety springing from it (U.S. Bishops, #100).

CHANNELING POPULAR PIETY AND DEVOTIONAL EXCESSES

The history of popular piety shows that devotion to Mary can become excessive if not checked  and unless religious leaders and liturgists are able to direct such devotions into approved forms of piety. Theologians ought to ask if these excesses are born of liturgical deprivation or what deep human and spiritual needs are being met by such extraordinary manifestations, which seemingly are not being met by community liturgies. They too need to inquire how the divine attributions taken over by Mary in early Christian times may now be reclaimed by a forgiving and merciful God. Duffy suggests that “the Paschal mystery became something to be grasped inside one’s head, instead of a transforming reality which raises and transforms us through encounter and communion” (Duffy 2000: 221). Do parish liturgies celebrate a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousand generation? (Exod 34:6-7). How can pastoral leaders present the marvelous mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, born of Mary’s flesh and blood in the “fullness of time” as the central axis of history so that marian devotion can lead us to her Son?

Duffy concludes that rather than condemn devotional excesses as “the hectic fever of a sick Christianity, desperately in need of the healing medicine of liturgical renewal” (2000: 221) we may need to ask why sentiment and emotion take over. The church hierarchy may not be able to control popular marian devotions effectively but it can channel them towards more legitimate forms of devotion. Devotions at Lourdes, for example, have been given a christocentric focus. Since the shrine was officially approved, the eucharistic celebration, the anointing of the sick and the procession of the Blessed Sacrament have become highlights of the pilgrimage.

Any theological reshaping of the image of Mary must take into account the images of Mary in popular religious imagination because pilgrims continue to flock to shrines to contemplate the intimacy of God in the figure of Mary. In the words of Paul VI in his encyclical Marialis Cultus, marian theology must strive to emphasize:

“the figure of the Virgin most Holy, ...perfect model of a disciple of the Lord: laborer of the earthly and temporal city, and at the same time diligent pilgrim toward the heavenly, eternal city; promoter of the justice that liberates the oppressed and the charity that succors the needy, but above all active witness of the love that builds Christ in hearts (#37).

Since all believers embrace some aspects of popular religion in their devotional life popular piety will need a Mary, ‘so full of God, yet so much ours,’( who is a heavenly healer, a caring intercessor, prophet, comforter and friend. What theologians and pastoral leaders ignore, ordinary people will provide: Lourdes andFatima, Sheshen and La Vang  and one hope-filled Guadalupe will probably always be with us.

 

REFERENCES

Brown, Raymond.  Reference unavailable. (I would be grateful if   any reader can supply this reference.

Brueggemann, Walter

1997 “Texts that Linger, Words that Explode,” Theology Today, Vol 54, No 2, July, pp. 180

199.

Carr, Ann

“Mary in the Mystery of the Church,” in Mary According to Women, Carol Frances Jegen ed.Kansas City: Leaven Press.

Clift, Jean D. & Clift & Clift, Wallace B.

1996     The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action With Inner Meaning. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist.

Carrasco, David

1996     “Those Who Go on a Sacred Journey: The Shapes and Diversity of Pilgrimages,” Concilium.  London: SCM Press.

Duffy, Eamonn

1991     “May Thoughts on Mary,” Priests and People, May.

2000     “Popular Religion” Priests and People, June.

Gebara Ivone & Bingemer, Maria Clara

1989     Mary Mother of God, Mother of the Poor. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis.

Paul VI

1985     Marialis Cultus. Manila: St. Paul Publications.

Pope, Barbara C.

1985     “Immaculate and Powerful,” Immaculate and Powerful: the Female in Social Image and Social Reality ed., Clarissa Atkinson. Boston: Beacon Press.

Schileebeeckx, Edward

1964     Mary, Mother of the Redemption. New York: Herder and Herder.

Shinners, John R.

1989     “The Cult of Mary and Popular Belief” in Mary, Woman of Nazarerth: Biblical and Theological Perspectives. New York: Paulist Press.

Turner, Victor & Edith

1978     Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives. New York:Columbia University Press.

( Talk given to the Manila Archdiocesan Commission on Visions and Phenomena.

( Translation of the title of Brazilian Bishop Casildaliga’s book on marian poetry: Tan Hena de Dios y Tan Nuestra.

PASTORAL PROGRAMS
ACADEMIC PROGRAMS