5 Marian Devotions
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Do you have trouble praying? If you’re like me, or anyone else who prays, the answer is: yes! The "Little Office" is helpful for those who pray, because it combines the objective structure of the Church’s prayer with the warmth of Marian devotion. The “Little Office” is an imitation of the Church’s official prayer, called the Liturgy of the Hours, and is composed primarily from the Psalms. Like the divine office, it is divided into different ‘hours’ meant to sanctify different times of day. It is “little,” because it is greatly shortened and simplified, and adapted in a devotional mode by using prayers and antiphons about the Blessed Virgin Mary. The ‘objectivity’ of this structure is great for those of us who recognize that we don’t always know how or what to pray, because we can let the words of the Scriptures speak for us.
The Litany of Loreto
Our names, especially nicknames, express something of who we are and what we can do. The Litany of Loreto seems like a compendium of names of Mary. We can contemplate the work of God in Mary under each of these names which express different facets of her fullness of grace, and we can also beg for graces which correspond to these names. As a student and preacher-to-be, I like to pray to Mary Seat of Wisdom, and I think of how Mary lives her life completely in light of God as the highest cause of all things, which is true ‘wisdom.’ We might be led to awe in what it means for her to be Mother of God when we contemplate how God has also placed her as Queen of Angels. Or again, when we pray to her as Mother of divine grace, I think of how her willing and worthy motherhood of God overflows spiritually to all of us, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote that she “mothers each new grace/ that now does reach our race.” In this sense, this ‘compendium’ is a catechism.
This prayer is named from the first word of the prayer, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.” It is a simple and brief set of prayers, easy to memorize, typically prayed at the beginning, middle and end of the day. (I know some people who have set a “bell” to ring on their cellphones at the proper times for the Angelus.) It lays the mystery of the Annunciation before our eyes in the midst of the worries and occupations of our life. What graces can we seek here? The mystery is multi-faceted. Mary receives the Incarnate Son in her womb by her fiat. Looking upwards from the Incarnation, we contemplate the mystery of the Trinity, the Father who sends the Son, and the Virgin overshadowed by the Spirit. Looking sideways from the mystery of the Incarnation, we see the passion, death and resurrection for which Jesus was made man. It is also the mystery of God’s prevenient grace to us, which is both unmerited and unbidden. On the moral level, we can contemplate our own need to be attentive and obedient to the voice of God in the unexpected times and ways He speaks– which we live out when we punctuate our days with the Angelus.
The scapular devotion, in its postage-stamp-sized variety, is a sort of symbolic sharing in the mission and prayers of a religious order. The most famous version is probably the Brown Scapular, which was given to the Carmelite friar St. Simon Stock. It has a rather hefty promise with it: preservation from the fires of hell. As the Church teaches, sacramentals exist to dispose us to receive the effects of the sacraments (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1667). This sacramental, then, does not entail making an end run on the need for the sacraments, especially the sacrament of penance. Mary promises us her intercession to be inserted in — and remain inserted in — this divinely revealed order, if we are faithful in devotion to her. The physical aspect of the scapular– it is worn– makes it a tangible reminder of Mary’s power to intercede for us.
Consecration to Jesus through Mary
St. Louis de Montfort, a French priest who was a Dominican tertiary, popularized this project in his book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a certain sense, this isn’t a single devotion but the culmination of a fullness of devotion to Mary. As he says, “we consecrate ourselves at one and the same time to Mary and to Jesus. We give ourselves to Mary because Jesus chose her as the perfect means to unite himself to us and unite us to him.”
One favorite image which St. Louis de Montfort uses to describe Mary is the “mold of God”– that is to say, the form which molds us into the image of the Image who is her Son. As one Dominican friar wrote, the consecration “is a practical form of recognition of her universal mediation and a guarantee of her special protection.”