In the Hartmann house, after we learned the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Grace Before Meals, the next prayer our mom shared with us was the Memorare. For years it was a prayer I used at bedtime. Since it was not one of the prayers we practiced in grade school, I didn’t think anyone else really knew it. I thought it more a family tradition, like the Grace Before Meals we used which was different from the one my friends’ families used.
This was until, in fifth grade, it turned out to be the prayer that our basketball coach,
As prayers go, the Memorare is compelling in its simplicity and its easily recited poetic meter. It conveys for us a humble theology of our incarnate need and a hopeful call for intercession. In the form of a prayer, it is a statement of the reverence and trust that Catholics have for our Blessed Mother.
Throughout the Gospels, the unique relationship with her Son is the root of Mary’s importance to all creation in the course of all history. In Scripture, there are many beautiful moments recorded for us, but the ones which I find most comforting are the eminently human moments between Mary and her son, Jesus — from the anxiousness of the finding in the temple, to what must have been a wailing sorrow at the foot of the cross.
For me, the best example of why we so trust Our Blessed Mother as intercessor is the wedding feast of Cana.
The Cana story (John 2:1-11) has an almost humorous twist when Jesus seems (at least at first) to be reticent to his mother’s request. But Mary, like any good mother who knows and loves her son, simply ignores his reaction. She is knowing and trusting that Jesus will do all he can to address the true need before him. She believes this, no matter what he says at first. Mary’s love for her son, with his love for her in return, and the selflessness of her intercession clearly cause Jesus, the Son of God, to perform the first miracle of his public ministry.
It is surprising to me that there exists so much misunderstanding of the so-called “Catholic” view of Mary. To some, reverence is perceived as worship; requests for intercession are confused with expectations that Mary herself performs miracles; and honest love for our shared mother in Christ is thought to equate her with God himself. But each of these Catholic versus Protestant misunderstandings misses the point of our relationship with the Mother of God.
Everything we know about the Virgin Mary is an example of sacrifice, service, devotion and love. Because all of these are offered in relationship to her son, they are the root of our many images of Mary as Queen of Apostles, Queen of Heaven, or Empress of the Americas, to name a few.
By placing ourselves at the wedding feast of Cana, and realizing the intercessory influence of the Mother of our Savior, we have grown to invoke titles like Mary, Help of Christians; Our Lady of Perpetual Help; and Our Lady of Good Help, to name a few more. The Blessed Mother is the quintessential mother. Jesus is the good son and we, since Christ is our brother, are also sons and daughters of Our Lady.
The origins of May as a Marian month are a little unclear. As far back as the middles ages there are examples of 30-day spiritual exercises dedicated to reflecting on Mary’s life and her relationship to Christ. Some think the choice of May is an intentional placement of Marian reflection in the midst of the Easter season. Others see an example of the Christian tradition of replacing pagan festivals with Christian meanings. In Ancient Rome, May was dedicated to Flora, the goddess of blooms, or blossoms. In the springtime of the year Romans asked the intercession of Flora for all that blooms.
Regardless of origin, in May we reflect on our relationship with the Mother of Our Savior – Our Mother in faith. We go to her humbly, like a child with a scraped knee crying, a teenager saddened by a broken heart, or a young adult coming to realize that they can share any error or sin with their mother. With confidence and hope we go to her knowing that our intercessions will never go “left unaided.”
After being the first public miracle of her son, the great lesson of the wedding feast of Cana is that Mary is, and forever shall be, the great intercessor for all God’s children. The lesson, though, reaches its peak of meaning when Mary brings that intercession to fruition by going back to the children of God with a simple mandate – “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5). Whatever the intercession we place before our Blessed Mother, she offers the same mandate, and in that she is for all of us the premiere herald of hope.