All posts tagged: Marian imagination

The Redemption of Status and Hierarchy

The Met’s Costume Institute Exhibition “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” currently on view at the Met Fifth Avenue and The Cloisters until October 8th, threads through galleries of medieval and Byzantine art, bringing the sartorial art pieces into dialogue with the surrounding masterpieces. The promenade-style exhibit could easily become a gaudy intrusion rather than an exegesis of the beauty already embedded around it. But from the very first runway—a neck-craning collection of evening dresses which march through a hallway of Antiochene mosaics—”Heavenly Bodies” demands a transformation of the viewer’s encounter with the surrounding art. That first dizzying catwalk of gowns both catalyzes new contemplation of the existing art and playfully suggests a core theme of the exhibit—the displayed earthly beauty has, at its heart, a higher telos. In her May article on the Met Gala, Anne Carpenter posed the question: “Do our things die when we preserve them, or does preserving them keep them alive?” For all the Church is lauded for its tradition and its continual admonishment to our short memories to …

The Assumption and Gender

On November 1, 1950, Venerable Pope Pius XII in His Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Generous God) solemnly defined and decreed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the teaching that Mary−because she was preserved from the stain of Original Sin inherited by the Fall of our first parents—did not undergo the corruption of the body at the end of her earthly life, but was lifted body and soul into Heaven. It is really an incredibly bold dogma, and one which can even scandalize our separated Protestant brothers and sisters, but it is very reasonable and meaningful, and is in need of particular attention in today’s world. It is important to realize that this dogma was not invented in the 1950’s. As Pope Pius XII’s encyclical points out, this tradition is found in the ancient liturgical books of both East and West. It is also attested to by St. Sergius I, Pope in the late 17th century, who even prescribed a litany to be prayed on the feast. But …

Our Lady of Lourdes and the Pathologizing of Pain

I don’t promise you happiness in this life, but in the next. —Marian apparition at Massabielle to St. Bernadette The meaninglessness of suffering is a self-evident modern axiom. Who wants to suffer from pain? What is there to learn from pain other than learning what medications will treat it? Is it not normal to want to avoid pain and suffering at all costs? It seems perverse and backwards to suggest otherwise. The community of those who insist on pain’s therapeutic worth and intelligibility, who refuse to stop suffering, are pushed into margins of what is acceptable to modern society. Yet, Pope Saint John Paul II made nonetheless the Catholic case for suffering against this tide of incomprehension in the Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris. The pope’s reflections are a commentary on the following passage from Colossians: “I am now happy in the suffering that I endure for you” (1:24). John Paul II grounds his argument (delivered “on the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 1984”) in the foundations of Christian anthropology: The joy …

There Is No Salvation Through the University

The 173rd commencement exercises will take place at the University of Notre Dame this weekend. Like most University commencements, there will be a good deal of self-congratulatory statements about the remarkable promise demonstrated by the class of 2018. Likewise, there will be generic exhortations to the newly minted students to “change the world,” to respond to the “unique challenges of this generation.” Yet not everything about these commencement exercises is quite so formulaic. At the conclusion of graduation on Sunday morning at Notre Dame Stadium, students will sing the Alma Mater once more (this time facing their parents and friends). The personification of the University as “nurturing mother,” as the place that brought the students into wisdom, is shared across colleges and universities. Students at Harvard College sing out in praise of “Fair Harvard!” The Bulldogs of Yale pledges themselves in song to God, country, and Yale. At the University of Tennessee, students clad in orange and white sing a wistful hymn commemorating the search for wisdom begun “on a hallowed hill in Tennessee.” Notre Dame’s Alma Mater is …

The Eschatological Marian Image

In sharp contrast to the multiple-viewpoint technique and elongated figures dominating the old, Byzantine-influenced paintings, the new Western 15th century religious images are distinguished above all by an “increasing realism” embedding conspicuous moments in biblical narrative within landscapes or interiors of great spatial and symbolic complexity. Moreover, the increased availability of panel paintings and, by the mid-15th-century, woodcuts, naturally facilitates their acquisition as quasi-spiritual tokens for the purpose of private devotion. Hans Belting writes: “Individual citizens did not want an image different from the public one so much as they needed one that would belong to them personally. They expected the image to speak to them in person.” Jeffrey Hamburger notes that the transition from aniconic to an image-based vision is characterized by “the increasingly important role of corporeal imagery in spiritual life.” In this development, spanning from the late 13th through the 15th century, “the process of vision is detached from the process of reading [Scripture].” Less the focus of sustained exegesis or affective vision than a deposit of possible allusions and increasingly fungible …

Traversing Marian Economics

This August I will celebrate five years since being received into full communion with the Catholic Church. My journey into the Church was a long one, at least ten years. When I began telling friends and family about my upcoming reception, like most Catholic “converts” I received a wide range of reactions. I’d been raised within a small Protestant holiness denomination and later, during graduate school, I was confirmed in the Episcopal church. In addition to this, for many years I’d been studying and practicing canonical icon writing with a Russian Orthodox school of iconology. Some people couldn’t understand why I’d leave the Episcopal church as they knew I had convictions about women’s leadership in the church. Others couldn’t understand why I wasn’t becoming Orthodox, given my passion for the holy images. It is never easy to explain such journeys, and it is not my personality to attempt explanation. But some loved ones needed to hear something by way of explanation and so, when I found it pressing, I gave the best answer I could …

The Mother of God and Psychoanalysis

One of the memorable and almost lyrical books I read as part of my private instruction prior to entering the Church was the great Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac’s The Splendor of the Church. The book is a fine example of what I would call “devotional ecclesiology.” It does not—as my own book on the papacy does—concern itself with the more impersonal structures and offices of the Church, but rather with the personal nature of “Ecclesia Mater,” Mother Church, whose maternity is seen vis-à-vis the Mother of God. That book, and that phrase, came back to mind in reading of the recent announcement by Pope Francis that he is instigating a new feast for Pentecost Monday celebrated in honor of Mary, Mother of the Church. Why this feast? The official decree says that it aims at a “growth of the maternal sense of the Church.” What, I wonder, does the “maternal sense of the Church” really mean? Here, naturally, my mind turned to post-Freudian psychologist D.W. Winnicott, whose research did so much to advance our …

The Virgin Mary, Birth, and Philosophy

Everything begins with the question that Nicodemus asks Jesus: “how can a man enter anew into the womb of his mother and be born?” (John 3:4). It is an excellent question, if not the best question that could be asked. For Nicodemus is not one who fails to understand the “birth from above,” but rather he understands perfectly that one cannot understand the “birth from above” without relating it to the “birth from below.” It is in coming back and describing the significance of “being born from the womb of his mother” (by means of paths “from below”) that one will be able to decipher what it means “to be reborn by water and spirit” (by means of paths “from above”). It is not a question of thinking that Christ’s response is an opposition—“that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6)—but rather thinking of it as an analogy: just as that which is born of flesh is flesh, so that which is born …

The Formation of the Imagination

Robert Macfarlane, a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, has reignited the discussion on the connection between nature and the imagination. In Landmarks, his most recent book on the unique regional words used to describe English landscape, Macfarlane comments that “Our children’s vanishing encounters with nature represent a loss of imagination as well as a loss of primary experience.”[1] If Macfarlane articulates a concern for the disconnection between the decreasing number of experiences in nature and the imagination’s vigor in secular culture, is it such a great leap to question the connection between the imagination and the spiritual life? This very question was pondered by Father Conrad Pepler, O.P., a member of the English Dominican province, who addressed this topic some 60 years ago: There is a need of an imaginative response to life, a training of the imagination, not merely in a few cases of poetic talent, but as a common function in every member of society. Incalculable harm can be done to men generally by the perversion or deadening of this faculty. When …

The Month of Mary and Music

Editorial Statement: During the month of May (Mary’s Month), Church Life Journal will celebrate the month of Mary by consider the nature of the  Marian imagination in art, music, folk customs, private devotion, and ritual action. The dedication of May as Mary’s Month is attested by several traditions, rather than by one definitive tradition. The earliest mention of it is from King Alfonso X of Castille in the 13th  century. The king speaks about honoring Mary on various dates in May in his Cantigas de Santa Maria.  However, the dedication of the full month only developed sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries. If that explanation is not precise enough for you, then here’s Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetic attempt at one in “The May Magnificat”: MAY is Mary’s month, and I Muse at that and wonder why: Her feasts follow reason, Dated due to season— Candlemas, Lady Day; But the Lady Month, May, Why fasten that upon her, With a feasting in her honour? Is it only its being brighter Than the most are must delight her? Is it opportunest And flowers …