David Questions Marian Devotion

For Mary’s month, an excerpt from the book I co-wrote with David Gustafson–Mary-A Catholic Evangelical Debate.

This is from the chapter on Marian Devotion. David has been taking us on a little tour of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. He’s been describing the various chapels dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. As an Evangelical he finds them excessive, but he keeps his poweder dry until he comes to the Polish chapel, where he finds a dedication that is a real show stopper.

David writes…

A Polish chapel features “Our Lady of Czestochowa“. In that chapel is posted a prayer to Mary (“An Act of Consecration to the Mother of God”) by the heroic Polish Cardinal, Stephan Wyszynski. His prayer caught my attention—it made me sad, actually—and impressed itself on my memory:

O Mother of God, Immaculate Mary! To Thee do I dedicate my body and soul, all my prayers and deeds, my joys and sufferings, all that I am and all that I have. With a joyful heart I surrender myself to Thy bondage of love. To Thee will I devote my service of my own free will for the salvation of mankind, and for the help of the Holy Church whose Mother Thou art. From now on my only desire is to do all things with Thee, through Thee, and for Thee. I know I can accomplish nothing with my own strength, whereas Thou canst do everything that is the will of Thy Son, and Thou art always victorious. Grant, therefore, O Helper of the faithful, that my family, my parish, and my homeland might become in truth the Kingdom where Thou reignest with Thy Son. Amen.

For life in the maternal bondage of Mary for the Holy Church,

My blessing,

Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski

If Cardinal Wyszynski’s references to Mary and Jesus were replaced by references to Jesus and the Father, this prayer would be uncontroversially Christian.

As it is, I cannot understand how a Christian minister can commend this prayer. To whom does the Christian properly dedicate himself, body and soul? (Php. 3:7-14.) Whom does the Christian want to serve, be with, work through and for? (Matt. 10:37; Col. 3:24.) Through whom can the Christian do all things? (Php. 4:13.) Who reigns in the Christian’s kingdom? (1 Cor. 15:25.) My little citations to proof texts are ridiculous. Even the most careless reading of the New Testament admits only one answer to all these questions: Jesus Christ.
Can I hope that Cardinal Wyszynski’s “Act of Consecration”, addressed instead to Jesus’ mother Mary, is an aberration, and that in reality Catholics are not encouraged to devote themselves to Mary in this extravagant way?

I encourage you to read David’s word and try to understand his objections to Catholic Marian devotion. He’s not against Mary as such, but sincerely believes that such devotions are excessive and must necessarily be giving to the Blessed Virgin the devotion and dedication that are due to her Son.
How would you answer David? (and no fair just telling him he’s a demon-possessed Protestant)
Tomorrow I’ll post my reply to David.
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  • I remember a Lutheran pastor circulating an essay by David Gustavson as a ‘possible solution’ to the crisis of authority in the Lutheran Church of Australia. He waved it at me in particular as an attempt to prevent me from resigning and being recieved inthe Catholic Church. He was so ernest that I felt for him when I referred him to an article on David’s own journey.

  • Probably two different David Gustafsons. Mine is a former classmate from Bob Jones University who has never been a Lutheran.

  • Brian

    That’s a tough one, Fr. Dwight. The problem arises in that Evangelical Protestants lack an understanding of the communion of saints (among other things). I suppose this would be my response, although it would probably be inadequate: “Even the most careless reading of the New Testament admits only one answer to all these questions: Jesus Christ.”To this I would respond with a resounding, “YES!” From the point of view of a Catholic, to give honor and praise to Our Lady is to give honor and praise to her Son. Why? Because Our Lady draws her glory from the risen Christ! An analogy that has helped me is that of the sun and the moon. The sun generates its own light but the moon reflects the light generated by the sun. However, the light of the full moon despite not being generated by the moon still illumines the night. To consecrate ourselves to the Blessed Mother means to dedicate ourselves to following her example and contemplating her virtue. In a way it is like using the light of the moon to find our way in the night; light which has its source in the sun. The prayer appears to be taken out of context. It is a private prayer written by a Bishop who is so devoted to Christ that he is willing to extend his devotion by honoring those people whom Christ loves. I think we would all agree that the Blessed Virgin Mary would fit in that category. His basic error though is his typical practice of applying evangelical understanding to the complex sacramental theology of Catholicism. It is wrong for Mr. Gustafson to declare this prayer un-Christian because he is applying an evangelical understanding to the prayer without even taking the time to consider the Bishop’s point of view.

  • DGus

    Dear Peter:That other David must be a distant cousin of mine. I was happy to have some of my children in a Lutheran School (Missouri Synod), but that’s as close as I got to being Lutheran.Dear Brian:Thank you for your answer. Your sun-and-moon analogy is helpful, but prompts me to put the question this way: If someone stands in the mid-day sun (i.e., if a Christian has a direct relationship with God through Christ), why would he concern himself with the moon (devotion to Mary)?

  • The moon helps us see at night time. That’s also when we best see the stars (the saints)Many Christians have found that in the dark, trials of life Mary’s presence and prayers (as well as the presence and prayers of the saints) is especially precious, clear and close.

  • Catholics affirm that there is one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. But God being the initial cause, in his desire to share his love with those he created, chooses to use secondary causes to bring about his will. His desire to see his mother blessed among women uses her mightily as a dispenser of graces to his church and as an intercessor.We suppose that God could choose to do all things himself, without involving those he has created but he doesn’t. Proestants do not withold the need for preachers, evangelists, prayer warriors, etc as a means for spreading the gospel. It is the fact that those Christians who have passed from this life are still active in the church that seems to give them pause. The surest way to Christ is through his mother as she will always say “Do whatever he tells you.” Through her own obedience she can encourage obedience to God’s will in all of her children for as surely as Jesus through adoption has become our brother, Mary has become our mother. Once can never be “too” devoted to Mary for all of our devotion to her flows through her to Jesus.

  • Brian

    dgus,What I don’t think evangelicals understand is that Catholics do indeed stand in the mid-day sun, but have you noticed that at times you still see the moon in the sky in broad daylight? Do you merely ignore the moon? No. Our veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary does not take the place of our adoration of Christ. It is an extention of our love for Christ. To deny Our Lady veneration is in a very real way a denial of Christ’s love for her.

  • DGus

    Jim J: You might be using (harmless) hyperbole, or you might mean it literally, when you say: “Once can never be ‘too’ devoted to Mary for all of our devotion to her flows through her to Jesus.”Do you mean this literally–viz., that Marian devotion could never be excessive? that it is impossible for it to be idolatrous? so that the Church never need warn Marian devotees against excess?

  • Will everyone please buy our book so me and David don’t have to write it again?

  • And my baby needs an operation, so the royalties would come in handy.

  • David

    As someone making his way into the Catholic church, I found the book incredibly helpful and refreshing, especially since Mr. Gustafson asks the exact questions that I tend to ask.And I appreciate his footnoted reference to Cardinal Newman, in which the latter laments what he perceives to be excesses of Marian devotion: “They seem to me like a bad dream. I could not have conceived them to be said…..”Even Fr. Dwight a few pages later acknowledges this regarding Pope Pius’s definition of the Immaculate Conception: “I understand what he’s saying, but I wish he hadn’t put it that way.”The point here isn’t to set Fr. Dwight against Pope Pius IX, or Cardinal Newman against St. Louis de Montfort, but rather simply to say that I find it extremely refreshing when Catholics acknowledge the possibility of Marian excess, and the possibility that some expressions could easily be misinterpreted to mean what isn’t intended.It helps calm my evangelical instincts!Anyway, great book! Thanks, Fr. Dwight & Mr. Gustafson.