It is an undisputed fact that the most Blessed Virgin Mary is to play a unique part in the end times. On the one hand, one can perceive the extraordinary development of Catholic doctrine as to her person and mission (Mariology) and on the other, she manifests herself ever more frequently in various apparitions rigorously examined and approved by the Church. At the same time holy personages arise, whose life, writings, and activity indicate a particular intervention of the Mother of God, who uses them as her instruments in realizing the most astounding ventures in the history of the Church. The cult of Our Lady among the faithful has steadily grown and as a consequence lives have overflowed with holiness as well as a resolute resistance against all forms of evil, i.e., heresies, immorality, or governments bereft of religion.
The Development of Mariology
In the first centuries of the Church the cult of the most Blessed Virgin Mary was very vigorous as attested to by countless texts of the Fathers of the Church. Already in the second century, St. Justin l and St. Irenaeus2 taught that she was the “New Eve” cooperating with the New Adam, Jesus Christ, for the redemption of souls. By then, SS. Ephraim, Ambrose, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, German of Constantinople, and John Damascene extol her immaculate conception.
The greatest veneration was paid to Mary as the “God-bearing one” Theotokos). The Church Fathers are nearly unanimous on this. The Council of Ephesus (431) proclaimed the first Marian dogma that Mary is truly the Mother of God:
If anyone does not profess that Emmanuel is truly God and therefore the Most Blessed Virgin is the Mother of God (because the Word of God became flesh in her womb) let him be anathema!3
The Marian spirituality of the Fathers of the Church is particularly manifested by the sacred liturgy of the East in its magnificent composition Hymnos Akathistos, a long litany in honor of the Mother of God which presents her various lofty aspects and grandeurs.
In the Middle Ages
The Marian cult evolved in the 12th century particularly through the recitation of the Holy Rosary. According to tradition, St. Dominic received the rosary from the hands of Our Lady while in the year 1251, .Simon Stock, reformer of the Carmel monastery, received from her what is known as the Scapular of Carmel (popularly known as the “Brown Scapular”), a miniature habit, the wearing of which bestows many graces, not the least of which is: “Whoever dies clothed in this garment shall not suffer eternal fire.” The Franciscan theological tradition endeavored to elucidate, as well as propagate, the teaching on the immaculate conception.
From the 19th Century
It was not until the 19th century that Mariology was once more revived through the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary4 by Pope Pius IX (1854) in his Bull Ineffabilis Deus. On the foundation of this dogma, the teaching on the spiritual motherhood of Mary evolved. Pope St. Pius X, in his encyclical Ad Diem Mum Laetissimum wrote:
Hence nobody ever knew Christ so profoundly as she did, and nobody can ever be more competent as a guide and teacher of the knowledge of Christ….Hence it follows, as We have already pointed out, that the Virgin is more powerful than all others as a means for uniting mankind with Christ ….For is not Mary the Mother of Christ? Then she is our Mother also. And we must in truth hold that Christ, the Word made Flesh, is also the Savior of mankind, He had a physical body like that of any other man: and again as Savior of the human family, He had a spiritual and mystical body, the society, namely, of those who believe in Christ….Therefore all we who are united to Christ, and as the Apostle says are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones (Eph. 5:30), have issued from the womb of Mary like a body united to its head. Hence, though in a spiritual and mystical fashion, we are all children of Mary, and she is Mother of us all.
Another consequence of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not only did Pope Pius XII insert this Feast within the liturgical cycle as a holy day of higher rank (II Class) but also in closing his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, he consecrated the people of the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In his encyclical Octobri Mense6, Pope Leo XIII spoke of the Mother of God as Mediatrix of All Graces. Likewise, so did Pope St. Pius X in Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum7 and Pius XII in his encyclical on the universal Queenship of Mary, Ad Coeli Regina.8
By his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (Nov. 1, 1959), Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, body and soul.9 In the preparatory work for the Second Vatican Council, the central committee received approximately 600 requests from the bishops who asked that the upcoming general council elaborate on the doctrine concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary. Amongst this number 311 insisted on the proclamation of the dogma “Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace” and 127 on the proclamation of other definitions, as for example, “Mary, Co-Redemptrix.”10
After the Second Vatican Council
The new ecumenical orientation within the Church together with the Council’s reforms sounded the death knell for theological development regarding the Mother of God. In the interreligious dialogue with non-Christian denominations there is no room for Mary, and among Protestants, Marian dogmas are an affront. It is incorrect to presume that contacts with the Orthodox Church regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary would not constitute a “problem.” Even here, however, impediments are encountered because the Orthodox do not recognize the dogmas proclaimed in the Catholic Church after the seventh or eighth General Councils. These factors have brought about a danger that the piety of the faithful is at risk to sever itself from its dogmatic base and therefore lose itself in subjective sentimentality or credulous attachment to false and heretical visions.
Apparitions of the Mother of God
Parallel with the unfolding of Catholic teaching regarding the Mother of God, Our Lady deigns to appear solemnly and more often to her children. In her past apparitions, it appears that their main purpose was the personal relationship between the visionary and the Mother of God herself or were directed for a particular monastery, a designated group of people, or to a specific country. Prominent apparitions of consequence for the whole world began only at the onset of the modern era. It seems that as the battle against God and His Church heats up and the Masonic spirit of materialism and liberalism flourishes unabated, the Mother of God personally intervenes ever more frequently in order to confirm Catholics in the Faith as well as to convey the appropriate remedies.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
When in Western Europe around eight million faithful were severed from the Catholic Church through the Protestant heresies, in Mexico the Mother of God appeared to Bl. Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill (Dec. 9,10,12). The Immaculata requested that on the spot of the apparitions a church be constructed where “I will show the people all my love, mercy, compassion, help and protection.” When the bishop insisted upon a sign from her as an affirmation of authenticity, there appeared a miraculous image of Mary on the tilma (work apron) of Juan Diego, which he used to carry the roses off to the bishop.11 Around the miraculous image developed the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the archives of the Cathedral in Mexico are preserved testimonies and declarations of thousands of miracles which were obtained through the mediation of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Despite the heroic efforts of Catholic missionaries before the apparitions conversions were minimal, but as a result of the devotion that grew around this miraculous image, by which the Indians understood the triumph of the Mother of God over their gods, 10 million people embraced Catholicism,12 and South America converted as a result. By the middle of the 20th century, 17 congregations bore the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.13