To the people of God in the Philippines, especially the clergy, religious men and women, and members of mandated organizations
1. The unavoidable
conclusion of anyone contemplating the religious practices of the Philippines is that we Filipinos are indeed a religious people. The thousands of churches and chapels all over the Islands, from the Batanes in the
North to Jolo in the South, testify that Christianity has become a true part of Philippine life. We consider ourselves the Christian country of Asia.
2. When one tries to determine the characteristic of
our Christian faith, one finds that our practice of religion has taken on a popular color and has a special sense of devotion that makes it spefically Filipino. He finds that certain traits of Philippine
Christianity transcend the boundaries of Catholicism and are found with equal prominence in other groups of Filipino Christians and in other Philippine Christian Churches. The devotion that the Filipino people
show for the principal mysteries of our Redemption comes from the very life of our men, women and children in the form of a deep and personal faith. The celebration, for instance, of Christmas with its cheerful
and colorful religious and family customs, on the one hand, and the mournful but no less colorful celebration of Holy Week on the other, center the Christian life of the average Filipino on the Incarnation and Passion
of Our Lord.
3. No less prominent is another trait connected with the two mysteries just mentioned -- the special place the Mother of Christ has in the life of the Filipino people. It is to this devotion
to the Blessed Mother that we would like to dedicate our Pastoral Letter. The spirit of reform and renewal, or to use the catchword "aggiornamento," made famous by the late Pope John XXIII, which
began at the end of the Second Vatican Council has led us to direct our attention to this aspect of the religious life of our people. This devotion to the Blessed Mother should be reflected upon and examined so
that golden mean may be kept between these forms of devotion that reflect "the diversity of native characteristics and temperament among the faithful,"1
and the principle stated by the Council itself "that true devotion consists neither in fruitless and passing emotion, nor in a certain vain credulity. Rather, it proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues."
4. We had been considering the idea of addressing to you a pastoral letter on renewal of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary -- "renewal" in all its facets is also one of the purposes of
the Holy year -- when we received the Apostolic Exhortation of our Holy Father Paul VI Marialis Cultus which he has dedicated to this very theme. We feel, therefore, doubly justified in addressing ourselves to you
now. This offers an opportunity to examine one important aspect of our religious life at a time when there are excesses in both directions, credulity and unbelief, and not a few of our faithful are looking for
appropriate guidelines in the matter of devotion to Mary.
5. We begin this Letter with a description of the veneration of Mary in the Philippines. There will follow a doctrinal reflection on the basis of
the devotion to Mary and finally we will make concrete pastoral applications to the religious life of our faithful.
I. FACTS RELATED TO THE VENERATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
IN THE PHILIPPINES
6. Statistics are cold numbers which will never express accurately a spiritual reality nor the intensity of religious faith. At times, however, numbers may constitute a significant
index of a more profound reality. It would be enough to open the Catholic Directory of the Philippines to realize that a very large number of parishes are dedicated to the Mother of God under one of her many
invocations. Four hundred sixty-three, or over one-fourth of all parishes, have the Virgin Mary as their titular patron without counting innumerable barrio chapels, religious oratories or private shrines dedicated
Various Invocations and Titles
7. Over 100 of the parishes honor the Immaculate Conception, over 60 are dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, while others carry
various titles like the Assumption, Our Lady of Carmel, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, etc.4
Some of the shrines dedicated to Mary have won nation-wide popularity either as focal points of
national pilgrimages or as well-known centers of devotion. To mention just a few among the better-known, we find Our Lady of Charity and Our Lady of Badoc in Ilocos, Our Lady of Piat in Cagayan Valley, Our Lady of
Manaoag in Pangasinan, Our Lady of Salambao in Obando, Bulacan, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo, Rizal, the Purification of Our Lady (or La Candelaria ) in Mabitac, Laguna, Our Lady of Caysasay in Taal,
Batangas, Our Lady of Peņafrancia in Naga City, Nuestra Seņora Virgen de Regla in Lapulapu City, Our Lady of the Pillar in Zamboanga, etc.
8. This widespread devotion to the Blessed Mother goes back to the
origins of Christianity in the Philippines. As early as 1571 we find ancient statues of Mary, like Nuestra Seņora de Guia, now venerated in the Ermita Church and whose origins are somehow lost in the folkloric
details of legend, and Our Lady of the Rosary in Manila whose origin dates back to 1587.5
9. Among the titles under which Mary is venerated in the Philippines, two are particularly prominent:
the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of the Rosary. The invocation of the Immaculate Conception goes back to the year 1578 when Pope Gregory XIII in a Bull issued on February 6 decreed that the Manila Cathedral
should be erected under the invocation of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.6 Clement VIII decreed on 13 August 1595 that the Cathedrals of Nueva Segovia and Caceres also be erected under
the same title of the Immaculate Conception. Moreover, one of the three ships that reached the Philippines in the first voyage of Magallanes in 1521 was the "Concepcion," named after the Immaculate
Conception, together with the ships "Trinidad" and "Victoria." Hence the Islands before being named Filipinas, and even before the name of Christ had begun to be preached, saw on these shores
the name of Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception.
10. The veneration to Our Lady under the title of the Rosary goes back to 1587 when her statue was brought to the Philippines. A confraternity
was established in 1588. Nuestra Seņora de la Naval occupies a place of honor among the national shrines dedicated to Mary in the Philippines.7 The Blessed Mother was referred to as the Senora
Grande de Filipinas on account of the many favors attributed to her. The recitation of the Rosary became a popular practice8
which has more than one analogy with the popularity that the novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help enjoys today.
Various Practices of Devotion
11. As other examples of paraliturgical
devotions in her honor, we may mention novenas to the Blessed Mother as preparation for the patronal feast.9 These include the special weekly novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, now very popular in
12. The Block Rosary is practised in some parts of the Archipelago. It offers a good example of a devotion that is connected with the visit of images or statues of Mary from house to house
and from one family to another, where special veneration is given to Mary during the term of the image's stay.
13. A familiar sight in many homes, even of modest income, is what can be called the "family
altar ." In most families the image venerated is the image of the Virgin Mary under one of her familiar invocations. This fact, more than any other, constitutes a proof of how deeply rooted the
veneration to Mary is in the socio-religious structure of the Filipino Christian family.
14. The various manifestations of popular piety towards the Mother of God appear not only in the number of churches,
chapels, or shrines consecrated to her, but in many other forms, ranging from the liturgical celebration of her feasts throughout the year to religious calendars with the holy picture of Mary -- not always of the most
artistic nature, it must be acknowledged -- in the most humble nipa huts or in the slums of the cities, to her picture in public vehicles, buses or jeepneys. Grottoes dedicated to the Immaculate Conception under
the invocation of Lourdes are found in private gardens or in various public places, along the roads or in corners of modest dwellings.10
15. The endless symphony of Marian names in the baptismal
records of our parishes constitutes by itself a tribute to the devotion of our people to the Mother of God. It may be safely said that of the names of saintly women imposed in Baptism, none is more frequently
found than the name of Mary either expressly or in one of her many titles.11
The Liturgical Year
16. The liturgical year has its climax in the solemnity of Easter, but within the
year the Church recalls the mysteries of Redemption, thus opening to her faithful "the riches of her Lord's powers and merits, so that they are in some way made present at all times, and the faithful are enabled to
lay hold of them and become filled with saving grace." "In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ's mysteries, the Church honors with special love the Blessed Mary Mother of God, who is joined by
an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son. In her the Church holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of the redemption."12
17. Thus we find various feasts of Mary
celebrated in the Philippines. We find her feasts particularly in the Christmas cycle which comprises the Aguinaldo Masses where the traditional celebration is the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, New Year's day
when the Church celebrates the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the feast of the Holy Family which falls within the octave of Christmas, and the feast of the Purification, now called the Presentation of
Our Lord, and popularly known in the Philippines as La Candelaria.
It is a well-known fact that the most important religious occasion of the year for the Filipino, with the possible exception of the religious
celebration of the town fiesta, is Christmas. Christmas offers a special opportunity for the people to show their veneration to Mary: not only will the belen feature the "Mahal na Birhen," but in
other dramatic presentations, like the posada, or panunuluyan ("begging for shelter") which persists in many communities, Mary place an important role.13
Christmas caroling could also be
conveniently related to and considered as a commemoration of the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to spend the night. This feature should be brought out more clearly in order to give this custom a truly
The re-enacting of the Nativity of Our Lord, with the part that Mary had in it, is done dramatically, with a deep sense of simple faith and identification with both the Infant Jesus and
18. During the Lenten season, especially during Holy Week , Mary plays an important part in the popular devotion of our faithful. Good Friday has a deep human appeal for many Filipinos
especially with its Way of the Cross and commemoration of the sufferings of Our Lady of Sorrows. Easter Sunday brings the deeply human and dramatic encounter of the Mother with her risen Son in the Salubong, which
is artistically enacted in many places all over the Island.15 A popular feature of the Holy Week is the Pabasa ng Pasiyon. Although there are versions in almost every major language of the
Philippines, the best known Tagalog Pasiyon16. which begins with a prayer to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only tells the story of the creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, but even tells of the
birth of Mary. After having described a series of selected events from the life of Christ, especially His Passion, Ressurection and Ascension, the death, burial, and assumption into heaven of Mary are treated, as
well as her crowning as Queen of Heaven17. When the Holy Week solemnities are accompanied by processions, the custom is that the last statue in the procession is the Mater Dolorosa (the Sorrowful
Mother) behind which the priest walks, followed by a brass band playing solemn marches.18
19. It would be worth our considering the sociological implications of the two most popular celebrations we
have just described where Christ and His Mother are presented together: the feast of Christmas and the celebration of Holy Week, particularly the Salubong. If one compares the two feasts, as locally
celebrated, he will observe that in the traditional celebration of Christmas, it is the Family which is the center of interest from the time of the Misa de Aguinaldo onward. In the Easter celebration, the folk
practices center on the reunion of Christ and His Mother, while all who participate feel the joy of this meeting vicariously. Both of these feasts, therefore, feature a family reunion, and are for this reason
extremely rich experiences for the Filipino.
20. In May the classical Flores de Mayo are held in many localities, towns, or barrios, parishes or private chapels and
involve not only women and children but in some places the whole family. They are celebrated with a splendor and simplicity of faith and devotion which echoes the simplicity of the Gospels.19
follows October with the Rosary devotions, a practice widespread since time immemorial, due mainly to the zeal of the Sons of St. Dominic, and the historical procession of La Naval.
The Immaculate Conception , whose
feast falls on December 8, remains the principal Patroness of the Philippine Islands. After the suppression of several Church holydays in the Catholic Calendar of the Philippines, still her feast stays as one of
the three holydays of obligation during the year, the other two being Christmas and January 1, when the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is celebrated.20
21. It would not be correct to qualify all
these manifestations of the Marian piety of our faithful as mere actions or symbols without meaning, or to consider that they do not stem from a sincere and simple faith, since all these devotions represent a normal
outlet for human and religious remembrance, thoughts, and affection. In fact this veneration of and deep commitment to Mary blossomed in the mid-eighteenth century with the foundation of the first Filipino
congregation for religious women, dedicated from its beginning to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Philippines, popularly known as Religious of the Virgin Mary. The Barangay Sang Birhen, the Sodality of Our Lady,
the Legion of Mary, the Association of the Children of Mary Immaculate, are also fruits of the same devotion and have contributed in their own way to the development of Christian life in the Archipelago.
element that often escapes the superficial observer is the deep religious meaning that some of these practices, and in particular the town fiesta, have in the life of the Filipino people. The fiesta is neither
exclusively sacred nor secular but a mixture of rites and feasts. But from the religious point of view, the fiesta has three notable effects: the fulfillment of the community's obligation to its heavenly
patron, in our case the Virgin Mary; a certain, perhaps only initial, renewal of the spiritual life of the individual by the reception of the sacraments of confession and communion, and in many cases also by the baptism
and confirmation of children; and the renewal (or creation) of the individual's consciousness of membership in the Catholic Church.
This is true of the fiestas is general, but it applies in a particular way to the
fiestas in honor of Mary who is the patroness of so many parishes and barrio chapels. In this sense, the celebration of the fiestas in her honor offers a particular occasion for revitalizing Christian life, and
thus fulfills a truly religious function. This would be reason enough to allay the fears of those who may think that these celebrations divert the attention of the faithful away from God to Mary and thus appear to
be anti-Christian or superstitious. What is needed is a renewal, not a suppression.
Veneration of Mary in other Christian Churches
23. This veneration of Mary is not a feature
exclusively of Catholics. Even the followers of the late Gregorio Aglipay often have shown and continue to show many of the signs of veneration toward Mary that Catholics do in celebrating her feasts, such as
holding processions in her honor, keeping lamps buring in front of her image, and even having associations that carry the name of Mary. 21
Without in any way minimizing the differences in attitude toward
the Mother of God among various Christian groups in the Philippines -- some respectful, some rather belligerent regarding Catholic doctrine and practice -- we find for example, that there is also a genuine Marian piety
among the faithful of the Philippine Episcopal Church manifested in the liturgical celebration of various Marian feasts (Annunciation, Purification), the song of the Magnificat in the Evening Prayer, and even the fact
that their cathedral in Manila is dedicated to St. Mary and St. John.
24. The facts we have presented above show the extent of devotion to the Blessed Mother in our country, especially among Catholics.
Before we come to pastoral and more practical considerations in this matter, we wish to offer some theological reflections on the veneration to Mary, the Mother of God.
II. THEOLOGICAL BASIS FOR THE DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
25. In order to preserve and purify and strengthen our Filipino heritage of devotion to Mary, we should compare our own practices and
attitudes with the sources of Revelation and the documents of the Magisterium, so that we can retain and enhance what is truly Christian and eliminate what is merely legendary or false. We should also set our
devotion to Mary in the context of our Filipino society and in confrontation with the needs of the Filipino people today, so that it may be truly our own and may mirror our way of approaching Mary and Christ.
this way too we can avoid the deviations against which the Second Vatican Council, and recently Pope Paul VI himself, warned us: exaggeration that can falsify our devotion to Mary, or a sentimentality that can
substitute merely external practices for a serious commitment to the Gospel in action and in life.22
A. Mary in Scripture
26. The Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus
issued on 2 February 1974 by Pope Paul VI calls our attention to the fact that "Today it is recognized as a general need of Christian piety that every form of worship should have a biblical imprint."23
A first level of biblical imprint on Marian devotion is attained when scriptural texts that mention Mary or allude to her are used in liturgical worship as well as in popular devotions.24 It is
therefore useful for us to review these scriptural texts briefly.
27. The mother of Jesus is mentioned in Mark 3:31-35 and its parallels in Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21 (see
also Luke 11:27-28). There Jesus speaks about the person who does what God wants as His true kinsman. A reference to her is also made in Galatians 4:4 when St. Paul emphasizes the full humanity of Jesus, son
of a human mother.25
Basic Gospel Data
28. The data we have from the Gospels concerning Mary are that she was bethrothed to Joseph (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26-27) in Nazareth; that
she was a virgin when she conceived (Luke 1:27.34-35; Matthew 1:25; see also Luke 2:5) and that she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:25-2:1; Luke 2:4-7). Otherwise she is simply located at various
places, always connected with her Son: in the hill country of Judea for Elizabeth's recognition of her unique maternity (Luke 1:39ff.); at Jerusalem for her own purification in the Temple and the offering of the
Child to God (Luke 2:22ff.); at Nazareth for the Child's rearing (Luke 2:51; Matthew 2:23); at Jerusalem for the discovery of Jesus speaking with the teachers in the Temple (Luke (2:42-46); at Cana for a wedding (John
2:1); and finally at Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified (John 19:25) and when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles (Acts 1:18).
29. It is necessary for us to go
beyond the historical data in order to appreciate what Scripture has to say about Mary. When she is spoken of in the New Testament, the inspired writers often convey a deeper meaning by their words than may be
immediately seen by the average reader.
30. Matthew connects the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. In so doing the teaches us that before the
event God chose Mary to be the Virgin Mother of the Saviour. The Evangelist reenforces this point by stating that Joseph "did not know her" until the birth of the child. According to Matthew then,
Joseph recognized that Mary was divinely chosen to be the Virgin Mother of the Child, and fully respected God's will that Mary remain a virgin.
It has been said that Matthew gives more attention to Joseph than to
Mary, but it should not escape our attention that the role of Joseph in Matthew's narrative is to provide the title "Son of David" (Matthew 1:1) for the Son of Mary (Matthew 1:25) -- a role he fulfills because
he is of Davidic lineage (Matthew 1:20) and the husband of Mary; to understand Mary's virginal motherhood of Emmanuel; and to care for and protect mother and child so that they could achieve their salvific mission to
the Jews and the whole world.
31. In the story of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) Matthew keeps silent about Joseph but says that the Magi from the east "saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to
their knees they did him homage" (Matthew 2:11). Jesus is revealed to the Gentile world, represented by the Magi. Mary's Son is the "Son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1), the one through whom
the divine promise that all the nations are to be blessed in Abraham is fulfilled (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8-9). A clear allusion to Mary in a perhaps not too clear context but with deep religious and moral
significance for Christian discipleship is found also in Matthew 12:46-50 -- "Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother" -- a parallel with Mark 3:31-35.
32. It is clear from Matthew's theology that Mary has a special place in God's salvific plan. She was chosen by God to be the woman who would give reality to the messianic hope of Israel, and the one who
will be with the Messiah when the Gentiles come to worhsip.
33. By an artistic use of comparison and contrast the Infancy narrative of Luke shows the superior dignity of Jesus over John
and of Mary over Zachary and Elizabeth. The literary style of the narrative draws heavily upon words, expressions and figures of the Old Testament, not by direct citation of them, but by allusion.
the Annunciation the angel Gabriel greets Mary saying: "Rejoice (Hail), so highly favoured (full of grace)! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The Evangelist suggests that this greeting is
not to be interpreted conventionally, for he describes Mary as pondering it and asking herself what this greeting could mean (Luke 1:29).
All three parts of the greeting are connected with Old Testament prophecies
that invite Israel, under the figure of a woman, the "daughter of Sion," to rejoice because God will bring about the promised salvation of the people.26 The invitation to rejoice parallels
that of Zephaniah 3:14.27 The expression, "so highly favoured" recalls the idealization of Israel as God's favoured people, spoken of as the "virgin daughter of Sion" (Isaiah 37:22)
or "virgin Israel" (Jeremiah 31:4), who is invited to rejoice at the fulfillment of her messianic hope. The assurance, "The Lord is with you," as used in the Old Testament28
expresses the idea of God's salvific presence, and when connected with Zephaniah 3:15, "The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst," it refers to the inauguration of the messianic era. As the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-17) invited Israel to rejoice over the presence of God within it to save it from all its misfortunes, so the angel invites Mary to rejoice because she is favored with the presence of God who saves her from all the misfortunes of her people. In this way Luke teaches that Mary, by becoming the Mother of Jesus, Son of the Most High, receives in her person the messianic hope of her people. The total salvation which in the past was just a promise, becomes a living reality in Mary. She epitomizes all that God has done for his people.
35. Mary's famous question in Luke 1:34, "How can this come about, since I am a virgin (I do not know man)?" raises exegetical problems that have not yet been fully solved. However
it is clear that, in contrast to Zachary who requested evidence to verify the truth of Gabriel's prophecy concerning Elizabeth's child (Luke 1:18), Mary does not challenge Gabriel's message, but merely asks that she be
given an understanding of it. The angel replies that the divine favor is to be shown her through a virginal conception of the child by the divine presence residing within her (Luke 1:35). Just as in the Old
Testament an overshadowing cloud symbolized the divine presence in the meeting Tent housing the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 40:35), so also the power of the Most High will cover Mary with its shadow, and cause - not
only symbolize -- the presence of God's Son in Mary's womb, the new Ark of the Covenant.
Overwhelmed at God's favor, Mary professes her humility but accepts the angelic message in its entirety, expressing her
confidence in the virginal conception as an action of God, in the mystery of the divine presence in the Child, and in the pledge of God that the divine favor toward her and her Child will be manifested in due
time. Through this act Mary becomes the model of faith.
36. In the visitation (Luke 1:39-45.56) Mary, carrying the Child in her womb, is compared by allusion to the Ark of the Covenant, the site of the
permanent presence of God, among His people. As the Ark was brought to Jerusalem in David's time (2 Samuel 6:1-11), so the mother of Jesus departs in the direction of the Holy City to visit Elizabeth. As
Israel honored the presence of God in the Ark during its trip toward Jerusalem, so Elizabeth recognizes at Mary's greeting that the mother of Jesus carries in herself the divine presence. But unlike David's (2
Samuel 6:9), Elizabeth's reaction to the presence of the Lord is one of joyful awe, not reverential fear (Luke 1:43); for Mary carries the presence of God that sanctifies (Luke 1:4) in contrast to the terrible presence
that dealt Uzzah a mortal blow (2 Samuel 6:11), so Mary remains with Elizabeth for about three months (Luke 1:56).
37. The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) brings back the theme of Mary's exalted dignity hidden in her
humility.30 She is again presented as a model of faith, but this time faith takes the charactreristics of the Anawim, the spiritual community of the humble poor who found their joy and strength in their
dependence on God.31 Essentially the Magnificat is a series of religious reflections invoking various Old Testament ideas that concern the mystery of God's salvific plan finding fulfillment in Mary,
through whose maternity of Jesus the generations to follow will receive the blessings of the messianic era. All generations, recognizing the divine favor bestowed upon them through her, will call her blessed.
38. The second chapter of Luke invites the reader to reflect on the mystery of Jesus through the eyes of his mother. The Child's birth occurs in simple and lowly surroundings that reflect the condition of
Mary as the embodiment of the Anawim. Together with the shepherds, who also represented the Anawim, Mary ponders the revelation of her Child to Israel.
Also in her capacity as one of the Anawim , Mary presents the
Child to the Lord in the Temple and makes the offering of the poor, two turtle doves (Luke 2:22). On this occasion God acts to manifest the significance of the Child as Saviour not only of Israel but the
Gentiles as well, thereby also giving joy to the old man Simeon (Luke 2:32). But Mary is invited to look at Jesus as a "sign that is rejected" and to prepare herself for the sword that will pierce her
heart (Luke 2:33-35). The prophetess Anna gives a joyful ending to the episode by praising God and speaking of the Child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).
concludes his Infancy narrative by putting a veil of quiet obscurity on the Holy Family fulfilling God's design through humble living in Nazareth, a veil lifted for a little while by the episode of the Child lost and
then found in the temple, sitting among the doctors, busy with his Father's affairs (Luke 2:41-50). Mary is presented as the model of those who ponder things in their heart as Jesus increases in wisdom, in
stature, and in favour with God and men (Luke 2:51-52).
40. The saying in Luke 8:21, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice," has been so edited by the
Evangelist that it becomes the conclusion of a series of teachings about hearing the word of God.32 Far from being a denial of Jesus' filial sentiments toward Mary, the saying is Jesus' praise of his
mother as the perfect hearer of the word of God. She is commended as the model of Christians inasmuch as they must respond to the word of God. She is a figure or type of the Church, the community of those
who, listening to the words of Christ, become his mother, brothers and sisters.
A similar message is found in Luke 11:27-28, the passage telling the incident of the woman who spoke to Jesus saying, "Happy the
womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked." Jesus replied: "Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it." Although the happiness that came to Mary because of her
physical motherhood of Christ was great, greater still was the happiness of being the disciple of Christ, the woman of faith. This is the deeper level of understanding that Luke wanted his readers to attain.33
41. The theological portrait of Mary in the Lucan writings is rich in its variety of roles: Mary is the Daughter of Sion, or personification of God's beloved people, who is invited to
rejoice at the messianic fulfillment of God's promises; she is the New Ark of the Covenant that causes rejoicing because she makes God present among men; she is the embodiment of the Anawim who rejoice in their complete
dependence on God.
42. John has been called "the Theologian" par excellence among the Evangelists as he constantly invites his readers to see the deeper meaning of what Jesus did
and said. He frequently does this by alluding to Old Testament events, personages, oracles, as well as Jewish religious practices, and by suggesting that the New Testament inaugurated by Jesus brings the past to
perfection and makes it operative in the present. Even the eschatological and future glory of the Church is presented by John as already present in the person of Jesus Christ.
From the Johannine viewpoint Mary,
as the mother of Jesus and the woman most closely associated with him, acquires a prominence unequaled in the other Evangelist's treatment of the public ministry of Christ.
43. Mary is presented by John at Cana,
when Jesus begins his ministry (John 2:1-12), and at Calvary when he consummates his work (John 19:25-27). In the narrative of both episodes we find the term "the mother of Jesus" as well as
"woman" and "hour."
It is impossible to interpret satisfactorily the Cana narrative on the assumption that it is solely the historical record of an objective event. John has purposely
saturated his historical data with allusions to the Old Testament so that the deeper meaning of what happened could be appreciated by the discerning reader.
44. John avoids Mary's proper name and designates her
with a title, "the mother of Jesus" (John 2:188.8.131.52). For John titles are important to clarify the religious significance of personages.34 As mother, then, Mary had a role to play in
Jesus' glorification. This is called his "hour"35
and is achieved through his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Once glorified by these events he can bestow messianic benefits on Israel and on all men.
Without denying the historical value of Mary's
declaration, "They have no wine," we must seek in it a theological meaning intended by John. Wine, in the Old Testament symbolism, stands for the messianic benefits.36 In the theology of
John, the statement, "They have no wine," may be understood as implying that Mary is asking Jesus to bestow the benefits of the messianic kingdom on Israel.37
45. Taking account of the
petition implied in Mary's remark, Jesus addressed her as "woman." This title as used in John 2:4 cannot be taken simply for the respectful term of address it represented in the Greek world of the
Evangelist's time. John gives it a theological meaning which we can grasp only after the meaning of changing water into wine becomes evident.
The element of rejection in the question, "What (is it) to me
and to you?" is explained by the fact that, at the historical moment of the Cana event, the "hour" of Jesus had not yet arrived. Jesus will not yet give the people the messianic benefits for they
will be given only after his Resurrection. However, a "sign" of the messianic benefits could be given, and this is what Jesus proceeded to do.38
By changing water into wine Jesus manifested
to his disciples that he will fulfill the messianic benefits promised to the Patriarchs. A confirmation of this thought is provided by the setting of the miracle, a wedding banquet. This is a Christian term
portraying the joys of the messianic kingdom.39 The meaning of the symbolism is further confirmed by the fact that the wine came from the water of ritual purification. Jesus will transform Old Testament
rituals into New Testament salvific sacraments.
46. In the light of the message so far gathered from the Cana narrative, we can see more fully the meaning of "woman" in John 2:4. It echoes the
"woman" in Isaiah 26:17, the metaphor of the pregnant woman, yearning for the kingdom but unable to bring it about. The title "woman" in the Cana narrative makes of Mary a figure of the people
of God: first, of the old Israel yearning for salvation through Christ, yet completely dependent on the action of God through him; and second, of the new Israel to come into existence through his Passion and
Resurrection. However, in Christ's ministry, the kingdom is being inaugurated. Its full benefits can not yet be imparted but a "sign" of them can be given.
From this standpoint Mary is the
mother--Israel foretold in Isaiah 60:4-5 and 66:7-11. Through her participation in the miracle at Cana she is beginning to experience the joy of gathering the new people of God into the kingdom that Christ will
47. In the Calvary scene John appears to offer -- if not to complete -- his reflection on Mary as a"woman" who willl be the associate of Jesus in renewing mankind.
"Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, "Woman, this is your son."
Mary's physical motherhood is perfected with the addition of spiritual
motherhood. She is not only the "mother of Jesus" but also the mother of John, who typifies the new people of God. At the word of Christ the John who was not the son of Mary is changed to the John
who is Mary's son, just as, at Cana, by the command of Christ, water was changed into wine. The messianic benefits Mary asked for at Cana and which were then deferred and granted only as "sign" are now
given in full measure to the new people of God represented by John. The messianic benefits are summed up in the privilege of becoming the son of Mary. The Mother of Jesus becomes also the Mother of the Church.
48. We mentioned above a first level at which the Bible left its imprint on Marian devotion. A deeper level is attained when this devotion is made a channel through which great themes of the Bible
are brought to the attention of the people (Matthew 22:2; 25:10; Luke 12:36) In seeking to reach this level we can avail ourselves of the practice not uncommon in the patristic era of seeing Mary typified in Eve,
Esther, Judith, the Ark of Noah, etc. We can also apply to Mary such texts as Proverbs, ch. 8, and Ecclesiasticus, ch. 24, as well as the book of the Song of Songs. But the task of extending the biblical
typology and accomodating biblical texts go beyond the strict study of Scripture. We therefore conclude this section happy in the thought that modern advances in biblical studies have enriched rather than
diminished the place of Mary in Scripture
49. We may say in fact that in our time a great interest in Mary has been shown by biblical scholars, both Catholic and Protestant. Their findings converge
remarkably, while at the same time both emphasize the fact that the Mariological orientation in Scripture is always and definitely Christological. The description of Mary is always pithy and sober, without any
hint of exaggeration even in Matthew and Luke. It will also be useful to remember that the Gospel data regarding Mary do not present a historical narrative of Mary's life but rather a kerygmatic picture of
Mary as the Church saw her since its beginnings, a paradigm of what we see her also today.
B. Mary in Tradition: Doctrine and Life of the Church
50. Scripture gives witness that
Mary's privileged role became the object of the early Church's reflection. We might say that following Jesus' last bequest on the Cross, the disciples of Christ took Mary as their own and sought to discover the
great graces with which God rendered Mary truly blessed among women.
Mother of God
51. By this title we express the most basic truth of our faith, that God became man, the mystery of
Incarnation. We honor Mary with this title whenever we recite the Hail Mary; we honor her as Mother of God in each of our Eucharistic Prayers.
This title was in use in the Church as early as the third
century. The original form of the familiar prayer "We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God" may also be that early. In the doctrinal controversies of the fifth century that accompanied and
followed Euthyches' and Nestorius' opinons on the problem of nature and person in Christ, the title of Mary as Mother of God was challenged. And although the point at issue was Christological rather than
Mariological, the logical consequence of Nestorius' doctrine as understood in the debate was the denial of Mary as Theotokos (Mother of God).
52. The church reacted strongly to this challenge. St. Cyril of
Alexandria defended Mary's title of Theotokos precisely as a profession of faith in the divinity of her Son: "Jesus Christ was not first born of the holy Virgin as an ordinary man, in such a way that the Word
only afterwards descended upon him, rather he was united with flesh in the womb itself, and thus is said to have undergone birth according to the flesh... For this reason the holy Fathers have boldly proclaimed
the holy Virgin Theotokos."41 It was this faith in Christ's Incarnation that the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 A.D. when it supported St. Cyril and defined Mary's title of
"Theotokos" as a doctrine of Christian faith.
Mary then can rightly be called "Mother of God," not indeed in the blasphemous sense of having existed before God, but as an affirmation of the truth
of the Incarnation. The Son of Mary and the Son of God is one and the same person, Emmanuel.
"Ang Mahal na Birhen"
53. This is the title by which Filipinos very often
address Mary. And our Filipino tradition has nuanced this title with all the reverence paid to Mary as Mother of God and all the childlike trust with which we can call her our own Mother.
Motherhood is a mighty act of God, an overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, as is related to us in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Christ's virginal conception is a mystery acknowledged and proclaimed by the Fathers
of the Church. In fact the earliest Fathers took Luke and Matthew literally on this point. We profess Christ's virginal conception in our acts of faith and recite it in our creeds.
54. Some perhaps
may find it strange, if not difficult, to understand how this fact can be a point of revelation on the part of God. Virginal Motherhood seems so much like a private privilege which would only benefit Mary, and
would have little relevance for our lives as Christians. Theologians hasten to point out that Mary's virginal Motherhood is a great sign of God's own absolute intiative in redeeming mankind. As St. Irenaeus
says, "Because an unexpected salvation was to be initiated for men through God's help, an unexpected birth from a Virgin was likewise accomplished. The sign was God-given; the effect was not man-made."
When we emphasize God's absolute initiative in granting Mary the privilege of her Virginal Motherhood and the Church celebrating her virginity, both elements are to be properly understood. It is
not simply the absence of a man that is being extolled at the Incarnation, but also Mary's action of totally committing herself to God for the redemption of mankind. It is precisely from this mutuality of God's
initiative and Mary's total reponse that her blessedness appears in full light.
Mother of the Church
55. The first new insight given us by the Fathers of the Church is that of Mary as the
"new Eve." As early as the second century St. Justin brought out the constrast between Eve and Mary. The virgin Eve accepted the word of the serpent and gave birth to disobedience and death; the
virgin Mary received the word of the angel with joy, and through the power of the Holy Spirit gave the birth to the Son of God.43 "And thus," adds St. Irenaeus, "as the human race
fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin; a virgin's disobedience is balanced by virginal obedience."44
This comparison of Mary with Eve quickly gave rise to
the veneration of Mary as the new "mother of the living."45 Thus the title that had been given to the Church from the beginning was also applied to Mary; and this in turn occasioned the
growing comparison between Mary and the Church. The Woman of Apocalypse (the Church) and the Woman at the foot of the cross (Mary) became one.
56. Filipinos have always had a very tender devotion to Mary
as Mother; and this devotion has brought down numberless benefits on our people. The loyalty of our people to Christ has been closely bound with our devotion to Mary who is his Mother and ours. Rather than
discourage a filial devotion like this, we hasten to praise it, and pray that we may always preserve our childlike trust in Mary's maternal love for us. But with the maturing faith of the Filipino, we should reflect and
consider what we mean by Mary's spiritual motherhood.
57. St. Epiphanius, who first honored Mary as "mother of the living," explains it thus: "Life itself was introduced into the world by
the Virgin Mary... Mary brought forth the cause of life, through whom life itself is produced in us."46 Mary is our spiritual Mother because she is the physical Mother of our Savior
Jesus Christ. Of course, mere physical motherhood would have been of no avail either for Mary's own sanctification or for our redemption. A basic element of Mary's motherhood was her faith and consent expressed in
her "yes" to the Angel of the Annunciation. Mary conceived in her heart, with her whole being, before she conceived in her womb. As St. Augustine says (and the Second Vatican Council quotes his
words), Mary is "clearly the mother of the members of Christ... since she cooperated out of love that there might be born in the Church the faithful, who are members of Christ their Head."47
St. Augustine hastens to add that we too are Christ's brothers and sisters and mother when we do the Father's will in charity, and labor for others until Christ be formed in them. We are all brothers and sisters,
parents and children to each other spiritually.48 But Mary is the spiritual Mother of us all, because she cooperated in the birth of us all when she bowed to God's will and consented to be the
mother of our Redeemer. And the Vatican Council reminds us that Mary's cooperation with her Son's work of redemption lasted from the moments of Christ's virginal conception up to his death. And even
after Jesus' ascension, she prays with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Finally, even in heaven Mary's maternal heart reaches out to us, the members of her Son's Mystical Body. With confidence
then do we "rely for help on her intercession," as we profess in the Eucharistic Prayer.
58. It is based on these ideas that Pope Paul VI on 21 November 1964 at the closing of the Third Session of the
Council proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church.49 This title refers to Mary's spiritual motherhood toward the members of the Church, pastors and ordinary faithful alike, the Church being the mystical
body of which Christ is the Head.
59. Mary is the way God chose to carry out his wonderful work of reconciliation and redemption. Mary totally gave herself to this work in her cooperation. But she is
not a dead instrument, rather we see the effects of God's wonderful redemption present in her in a very special way. She who has to work and cooperate with her Son was also to be the first to experience all the
wonders of God's redemptive power.
Mary as First of the Redeemed
60. Finally we should also treat of the singular blessedness of Mary as first of the redeemed. Considering how
infrequently the Gospel writers praise individuals, the insistence on Mary's blessedness in the first chapter of Luke is evidence of the veneration in which she was held in the early Church. She is called blessed
by the Angel; twice by Elizabeth; and once even by herself: "All ages to come will call me blessed, for he who is mighty has done great things for me" (Luke 1:48-49).
We must hasten to point out
that Mary's holiness is entirely the gift of God, derived wholly through the merits of her Son Jesus. Mary is redeemed, as we are, although in a more excellent way. Her claim to glory derives entirely from
the faith and obedience -- themselves divine gifts too -- with which she received the gratuitous gifts of God. She is our Mother and our model and our patroness only because she is "the handmaid of the
Lord" who opens herself completely God's saving grace. Blessed, because you have believed" (Luke 1:45 & 49).
61. Mary's Immaculate Conception was the first gift that God gave to
Mary. Conceived and born of human parents in the normal way, Mary was especially gifted by God from "the first instant of her conception," when she received a fullness of sanctifying grace and in
dwelling of the Most Blessed Trinity and so was by a singular privilege preserved from the stain of original sin "in consideration of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of the human race" to
prepare her to be the Mother of the Redeemer,50
-- her most basic gift. Thus we wish to point out that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is doubly Christ-centered. It makes clear, first of all, that no one is saved apart from Christ. This is true of all men who have ever lived, even though they were born many centuries before Christ. Secondly, the privileged redemption of Mary is totally and splendidly God's gift to her because she was to be the Mother of Christ.
62. Another aspect of our Lady's holiness is brought out in one of her oldest liturgical feasts, the Assumption , a celebration so dear to the heart of Eastern Christians. The meaning of this doctrine is
that Mary is one with the risen Christ in the fullness of her personality, or as we commonly say, "in body and soul." Pope Pius XII solemnly made this doctrine explicit on 1 November 1950:
"The Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever-virgin, after her life on earth, was assumed body and soul, into heavenly glory."51 The title of Mary as Queen of the Universe appears, thus, to be
full of meaning.
Again, we should not look on the Assumption as a private gift of God to Mary alone. Rather, "Mary assumed into heaven" serves as a gracious reminder to the Church that our Lord
wishes all whom the Father has given to him to be raised with him. In Mary taken into glory, to union with Christ, the Church sees herself answering the invitation of the heavenly Bridegroom. Hence in Mary's
life and vocation the Church's, indeed every Christian's, call to faithful service and to glorious union with Christ shines forth.
III. PASTORAL REFLECTIONS
63. The summary of Mary's
place in the history of our country as presented in the first part of this Letter has shown how deeply she is part of our heritage and part of our Filipino identity. Even where religious instruction among
Catholics is inadequate, the Filipino always holds on to the devotion to Mary as a source of inspiration and an aid to salvation. This devotion, even in an imperfect form is a positive asset that we pray
will always be ours. And we write this Pastoral Letter so that the Filipino may grow in his devotion to Mary and acquire a deeper understanding of Mary's role in the Church and a keener appreciation of her role as
64. We would now like to bring to your attention certain aspects needing either reform or renewal from a particular pastoral point of view or in the general context of Christian life. It is not
our intention to draw up an exhaustive list. We have chosen just a few examples either because some need more immediate attention, or because the principles and norms we propose may be applied not only to the case
in question but may also serve as a pattern for similar situations. But before we come to them, let us examine the positive values we find in the veneration of Mary by our faithful.
Positive Values of the Devotion to Mary
65. As a preparation for the writing of this Pastoral Letter a survey was conducted on the devotion to Mary in the Philippines which, although limited in scope, was
very precise in the questions proposed. From the answers given in the various ecclesiastical territories in the Philippines it seems clear that devotion to Christ's Mother is a positive and powerful force in and
for the Christian life of our people, although in some cases it must be purified and more vigorously incorporated into Christ's mystery.
Several facts have been brought up in this survey which in a remarkable way
point to the same conclusion and serve to complement each other. We find them expressed in various forms.
66. The love and veneration of Mary, especially by the celebration of her feasts, the pilgrimages
to her shrines, the recitation of the rosary (a practice however not as flourishing as in the past) have given the faithful a community awareness, while promoting a Christian atmosphere, and continue to help keeping
solidarity by making participants feel that they truly are brothers.
67. Besides effects of a more general nature, these practices of Marian devotion have produced other concrete and perceptible results in our
people. We do not speak only of the Marian life fostered by the Legion of Mary whose praesidia are widely disseminated in some dioceses, nor the fact that the Barangay Sang Birhen has taught a number of believers
how to pray the rosary and continues to help many to build up christian communities. We refer particularly to the fact that the cult of Mary and the devotion to her image have helped many simple people to remain
Catholics. Although the religious practice of many is minimal, yet the devotion to the Mother of God helps them to keep their faith alive. In fact on the occasion of her feasts and during novenas in her
honor, a perceptibly greater number of people receive the sacraments. Hence we may say that even a minimal form of devotion to Mray has consistently proven valuable.
This has helped in many instances to keep and
nurture the prayer-life of our people, but also--and this must be noted--it has given an added dimension by providing a powerful motivation for works of Christian charity, particularly by groups dedicated to her.
It is to be hoped, however, that it will help them also to dedicate themselves with greater ardor to the apostolate of social justice, accepting Mary's special role in humanity's destiny, in the development of
humanity to a community of justice and peace.
68. Perhaps this is the place to reflect more deeply on an aspect of our catholicism which on the one hand is characteristic of our people and on the other contains
a richness of spiritual values which might not have been properly appreciated in the recent past or may have been placed out of focus.
69. The recent Synod of Bishops in
Rome has discussed the problem of Evangelization in the World Today, considering it in the various regions of the globe and in the various aspects of Christian life. In a certain sense, the presentation and
defense of popular Catholicism at the Synod, albeit surprising to some, represents a new approach in pastoral theology. An attempt will be made here to reflect on these aspects of popular Marian religiosity that
seem to demand more immediate attention in our country.
Our brother bishops of Latin America -- a continent with which our country has more than a few similarities -- have also been confronted with the problem of
popular religiosity in their own countries. Their reflections were offered to their fellow bishops during the recent Roman Synod. Their views represent very valid insights into the problem. Hence we do
not hesitate to make our own many of their ideas as they are applicable in general to popular Catholicism in the Philippines and in particular to the veneration of Mary by our faithful.52
Christian tradition penetrates individual existence, social content and the very history of our people. This Christian tradition, a real experience of God and of faith, can be said to be the concrete mode in which
Christianity is incarnated in our people, deeply lived by them and manifested in their existence.53
This popular religiosity is manifested above all in a special sense of God and of His providence over our
lives, of the special help and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints and in certain fundamental attitudes in the face of life and death. From these arise the popular devotions, novenas, processions,
pilgrimages, fiestas, and the celebrations that surround baptism, first communion, marriage, death and burial.54
While not a few forms of this popular religiosity are of a rather ritualistic sort and in
general tend to be unrelated to day-to-day life, still the spirit behind them keeps in our people its full unity and operative power. Popular religiosity in our country is a springboard as well as an invitation
for the deepening of a more religious consciousness. The valid elements of an authentic faith, which are present in the profound religiosity of our people, need and demand that they be purified,
interiorized, made more mature, and brought to bear on daily life.
71. This demand that certain syncretistic and superstitious elements that might have entered into certain practises of devotion, at times a kind
of folkloric ritual which is wholly out of keeping with the true Christian faith, must be eliminated or transformed. In particular this religiosity of our people,this beautiful gift of God which is the seed of our
authentic faith, must be deeply rooted in the reality of the Person of Jesus Christ and in the Paschal Mystery--the Christ-event which at times has been somewhat obscured
72. This brief summary of what popular
religiosity is, its positive values and shortcomings may now be applied to the devotion to Mary in the Philippines.
It cannot be denied that popular religiosity has maintained in our country a deep Christian
content. Witness the many facts, historical and situational, presented in Part One of this Letter. From them it appears clearly how devotion to Mary in the Philippines has been intimately intertwined with
Christ and the mystery of Incarnation and Redemption. In fact, the Philippines, like her sister countries in Latin America, is a Christian and Marian nation. The Philippines was evangelized in the light of
Christ, of the crucified Christ -- hence the prominence of Christmas and Holy Week -- and of Mary. In this incarnational and redemptive context, the veneration of Mary has been and still is an important element in
bringing about a deep evangelization of the masses of our people.
In this respect what is true of Latin America is also true of our country: "The fundamental paschal dimension came to us through the
devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially through the recitation of and meditation on the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary,"55 a devotion which encompasses the mysteries of the Incarnation,
Passion and Ressurrection of our Lord.
73. In this sense, we may also say with our brother bishops of Latin America that devotion to Mary "is the safeguard for the preservation of our faith and the
principle of deeper and fuller evangelization."56
Hence we cannot but encourage our priests and faithful to continue fostering a fervent and authentic devotion to Mary.
74. One particular
aspect of the veneration of Mary intimately connected with the forms of popular religiosity in our country is the holding of fiestas in her honor and pilgrimages to her shrines.
Fiestas are more intense and vigorous
moments of the spirit in the collective life of the people and constitute for them a privileged encounter with God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our people should be helped to rediscover in community the ever
present riches of the religious celebrations.
75. These celebrations in honor of Mary often culminate in pilgrimages to one of her shrines , where God's presence among us appears with particular transparency,
where people feel they have a proper forum for their religious experiences, and where the pilgrim finds a particular stimulus to commit himself to a real "salvation history."
76. In this context we
find a deep meaning in the holding of processions , a feature most frequently found in the celebration of fiestas. These processions when participated in with a spirit of faith and prayer, become the sign of the
pilgrim Church moving towards Christ's paschal mystery. In this sense participants become -- and are -- eschatologically oriented. Pilgrimages to Mary's shrines, thus, not only help in conserving a tradition
of faith, but are also full of spiritual meaning and content. It is the duty, therefore, of the pastors to make these fiestas and processions in honor of Mary and pilgrimages to her shrines a true spiritual
encounter, and to prevent in their celebrations any deviation towards superstition or even the appearance of commercialism.
Need of Reform
77. We said above "authentic" devotion
to Mary. This word invites us to reflect on those aspects of the devotion which might have deflected from genuineness and purity, and hence are in need of reform and renewal.
The survey on the veneration to Mary
we mentioned above, has shown not only the many and rich, positive and potential values of this devotion, but also brought to light some aspects that are less commendable. Some attitudes or practices in Marian
devotion, well-intentioned as they are, cannot be unreservedly approved, and in this respect there is a need of instruction and correction.
78. The lack of doctrinal instruction (biblical or liturgical) on the
role of Mary in the history of salvation, seems to be at the root of the problem. The exploitation of Marian popular devotions for show purposes or for the benefit of visitors, and the fact that in many places the
main devotions appear to be too secularized, should be the object of special reflection.
79. Some practices need special consideration. We cannot approve, for instance, of the presence of several images of
Mary in the same house, chapel or church -- even parish churches -- with their devotees extolling the power of their statues over the others as if they were rivals. Medals, scapulars and votive candles are by
their very nature religious symbols and manifestations of spiritual trust and candid devotion. However we see a danger connected at times with their use, when people consider them as magic talisman, a kind of
anting-anting for mere material or bodily protection. We warn our faithful against a thirst for and easy acceptance of visions and visionaries with the concomitant dangers of paying a less than prudent credulity
to strange announcements, threats or promises. We are seriously concerned about the abuse in some places, where so-called faith-healers use the popularity of the devotion to Mary under one or other of her titles
to persuade the simple people that their faith-healing power comes from her or through her intervention.
80. Above all we wish to emphasize that all veneration of Mary is to be subordinated to the adoration of
the triune God and of Christ who is the Mediator. Mary's dignity is the most exalted among all the saints because of her divine maternity and hence she is worthy of special veneration as the Mother of God.
Her place and role in the economy of salvation is to be clearly proposed to the faithful, as the Second Council of the Vatican has expressed.57 This, we think, is a very important point and, if wrongly
understood, is the root and source of any ill-advised form of Marian devotion.
81. It is in this context that certain pastoral steps should be taken to reform and renew some practices in the life of our
faithful. The faithful should be instructed to venerate Mary out of love for her and appreciation of her dignity and not primarily to obtain personal and material favors. They should see the hierarchy of
Christian values and the duties in the Christian life by paying greater attention to the participation in the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday than in any other form of devotion. Public and traditional Marian
celebrations like the Flores de Mayo, often connected with the Santacruzan , must be prevented from becoming fashion shows that take away their spiritual meaning, with the danger of converting Marian devotions into
beauty parades rather than religious manifestations of faith. Similarly the traditional forms of devotion must never be an ostentatious show to be displayed for guests or visitors. The real spirit of these
devotions should be emphasized, and not merely the external practice.
Need for Renewal
82. These and other points are offered here as concrete suggestions for reform. But there must
also be room for renewal. Not a few forms of Marian devotion, good in themselves, and with the venerability of tradition, have fulfilled an important role in their time. However they must be updated and adapted to
today's religious world and needs. The lead has been shown to us by the Second Council of the Vatican which courageously initiated liturgical reform and renewal.
83. Thus, in consonance with the principles
of liturgical renewal which do not need to be repeated or enumerated here, it is clear that the problem of fiestas and novenas must be squarely faced. Pastors must be vigilant to prevent as far as possible the
mixing of paraliturgy with liturgy, or the simple incorporation of novenas into the Eucharistic celebration. A distinction must be made also between the novena for the annual patronal feast, a weekly novena (like
the popular novena to Our Lady of the Perpetual Help) and devotions to Mary that may last one full month (May and October). In any event two alternatives may be offered here:
a) A Mass-Novena with the elements of the Novena incorporated into the Mass either after the Communion and before the dismissal, or even during the Prayer of the Faithful. It is to be noted, however,
that in this case the prayer should always be addressed to God the Father, not to Mary.
b) The novena by itself, which should be renewed. A special committee to deal with this matter for the liturgical
and paraliturgical forms of devotion to Mary will be established, particularly for the renewal of the Novena structure and prayers.
84. Novenas will then be renewed by making them more scriptural, avoiding a verbosity present in some of them and a sentimentality less in consonance with today's religious attitudes.
On the other hand it is
a well-known fact that the holding of Novenas, specially in preparation for Mary's feasts, brings with it a particular sense of community among those practicing the devotion.
85. As for the Flores de Mayo an
effort must be made to utilize them better to instruct the people about the meaning of religious celebrations and to revitalize them. A similar remark applies to the practice and recitation of the block rosary, a
practice we higly recommend. We address also a word of encouragement to priests and religious: they too should try to rediscover the value of the rosary as a community prayer.
86. A word of caution
seems to be in place here. Our calling attention to the need of reform and renewal does not in any way advocate a kind of iconoclasm for images or devotions. On the contrary we wish these manifestations of
veneration to be kept for their value and to be purified of excrescences or deviations. Hence pastors should be very careful not to eliminate or discourage devotions of piety in their correct forms, and in
this way create a vacuum which cannot be easily filled. This is a delicate matter that needs to be handled with utmost pastoral prudence lest we lose many religious practices and particularly forms of devotion to
Mary, because of an imprudent or too premature uprooting of forms that demanded only reform and renewal. This demands in turn a certain sensitivity and a profound respect for the people's affectivity, their love
for color and their sentiments of faith.
These are some of the aspects we thought deserve your attention from the pastoral and liturgical point of view. Let us now enter into that dimension that Pope Paul
VI elaborates as the fourth principle in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Marian Cult.
Anthropological and Social Dimensions
87. Let us turn our attention now to a different but not less
important aspect. We refer to that dimension essential in the authentic devotion to Mary which is particularly relevant in today's world -- the social and anthropological dimension. This sociological aspect
has come to the fore with distinctive intensity in the 20th century and must be discerned in the light of the Gospel.
88. A revolution is going on which is woman's growing awareness of what she is.
Previously consigned to roles defined for her by a man-controlled society, woman is now questioning the structures of such a society. Agencies all over the world are taking cognizance of this phenomenon. The
United Nations, for one, has designated 1975 as International Year of Woman. If the Church is to be faithful to her call, she must look at this phenomenon and question herself regarding her own attitude towards
women. This is not a problem only for women, but a profoundly human one.
89. Without question, the male element is preponderant in the Church. Sometimes this fact breeds a certain unconscious
attitude of paternalism or condescenscion toward women which prevents women from attaining mature stature or from fully participating in the life of the Church. This area needs to be explored, especially with
regard to implementation of new forms of service for women, and renewal of a devotional spirituality that often appears less masculine in character. However the traits of liturgical services and spirituality are
more pronouncedly masculine.
90. In the Philippines where women enjoy a status and a freedom to which her Asian counterparts still aspire, we must look deeper into the question, beyond what seems to be obvious
and taken for granted by convention. The Filipino woman, though stereotyped as Maria Clara, is a figure of strength not only in the family but also in society. Her relationship with man, therefore, is higly
ambivalent. Since it is this relationship which is at the root of any society, it needs to be examined before any renewal of Philippine society can be effected. Is the Filipina one who is equal but
complementary to man, or she is one who supplants man? Does she, by her manner of being and her attitude toward herself and the opposite sex, help to produce better Filipino manhood or does she weaken it?
These questions need to be probed especially by those engaged in the social sciences.
91. Imitation of Mary does not mean keeping women within the cultural limitations which bound the women of Mary's time.
The Virgin Mary is proposed to the faithful as an example to be imitated not precisely in the concrete tasks she undertook at Nazareth, and "much less for the socio-cultural background in which she lived and which
today scarcely exists anywhere. She is held up as an example to the faithful rather for the way in which, in her own particular life, she fully and responsibly accepted the will of God, because she heard the word
of God and acted on it and because charity and a spirit of service were the driving force of her actions."58 The quality of her life as spouse and mother can imbue the ordinary chores of women in
the home with a deeper meaning and significance.
The modern search for the equality of women, and their co-responsibility in politics, the social field, scientific research, and intellectual activities, is by no means
incongruent with a deep devotion to Mary. Marian devotion and imitation have shown themselves in varied ways, according to the different sociological contexts in which Christian women lived. The Church does
not bind herself to any particular anthropological ideas underlying such expressions of the Marian cult. She "understands that certain outward religious expressions, while perfectly valid in themselves, may
be less suitable to men and women of different ages and cultures."59
92. In connection with the image of women, there is these days widespread publicity given to numerous beauty contests, a fact
that is deplorable since these events are occasions of falsehood which distort the true image of women, feed people's minds with false values, and put women on pedestals only to exploit them. The eyes of the
nation are often diverted by such beauty pageants from the ills of society and the serious tasks of nation-building. Church-related activities are not entirely free of this tendency, and fund-raising connected
with fiesta queens ought to be discouraged. It is also worthwhile mentioning that respect for women should find its expression in decent feminine dress, and is also fostered by Christian propriety.
view of the above consideration of Mary and the Filipino woman it is appropriate that we should address a few words to the Filipino man in particular. The dignity, self-awareness and spiritual realization to which
Mary is summoning the Filipina is for the Filipino man a challenge to understand her correctly and a reminder to respect, love and protect her. A woman is degraded when treated like an object, the conquest of
which is taken as a proof of one's maculinity in the spirit of childish machismo. A woman is a companion and a partner, an equal, and not a plaything or a slave. It does the Filipino woman no justice to
practise in her regard a double standard, by which she is expected to fulfill her familial duties, while the man's infidelity and irresponsibility are excused or taken for granted. Moreover, supporting her
materially is by no means the only obligation of a husband to her, nor does it justify any negligence or abuse on his part.
The mutually enriching and salvific union which is the goal of the institution of the
sacrament of marriage can only be achieved on a basis of respect, love, fidelity and the deep sense of responsibility that a man should have for his wife and vice versa. The Filipino woman measures up more fully
to her very important role in our nation-building and most especially in that basic unity of society, the family, when she is accorded love and justice by the Filipino man.
94. We rarely associate devotion to
Mary with the social dimension of Christian living, and this is when devotion to her can tend to become pious individualism. Mary should always be seen in a Biblical context, for she was the product of the
heritage of patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists of the Old Testament. We see this very clearly in her song of praise, the Magnificat, where she turns naturally from herself to her people. The God who is her
personal Saviour and whose greatness she proclaims is a God whose action on behalf of the lowly and the poor endures through the ages. Although Mary's words are not to be interpreted in the contemporary sense of
class struggle, they point to a reversal of the social order in the Kingdom of God.
95. Mary's song speaks of a God who has "routed the proud of heart," "pulled down princes from their
thrones," "exalted the lowly," "filled the hungry with good things," and "sent the rich empty away" (Luke 1:51-53). This is an echo of the utterances of the prophets who
condemned the wealthy not for their wealth but for their selfish complacency, the powerful officials not for their positions of authority but for their injustice and cunning. The poor of Israel were a blight in
the land; they were the manifestations of a sick society, but even more fundamentally, of a radical deviation from God's intentions for his people. In brief, the poor were visible signs of the deep-rooted sin of
the nation. Greed and deceit were in the hearts of the powerful of the land who were squeezing the lifeblood from the poor for their own selfish purposes. Though entrenched in this social sin, they put a
facade of piety and respectability which was sacrilegious in the eyes of the prophets. It was to those people that the Lord said: "When you stretch your hands I turn my eyes away. You may multiply
your prayers, I shall not listen... Take your wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow"
96. Such a society is encountered in the Philippines. The destitution of millions of Filipinos is an indictment of all of us who call ourselves believers. The oppression that exists
in Filipino society is contrary to the salvation that Jesus and His Mother proclaimed by their lives. We who profess to be their followers must live according to what we say we believe. At this moment of our
history as a people, our collaboration with God's work of salvation must take the form of work for justice, freedom, and peace -- not in the abstract, but in the daily realities of living, for they are the conditions of
salvation. Wherever there is injustice, bondage, and unrest there sin prevails.
Our devotion to Mary should never lose sight of the present plight of the vast majority of our Filipino, brethren who live lives
unworthy of human beings. These poor and oppressed brethren of ours are devotees of Mary, too; and they call out to her, their Mother, to ease their sufferings and free them from their chains. And surely her
maternal heart goes out to them. Her appeal comes to those of us who can help the helpless. Mary is the model of the perfect disciple of the Lord: "the disciple who builds up the earthly and
temporal city while being a diligent pilgrim towards the heavenly and eternal city, the disciple who works for that justice which sets free the oppressed and for that charity which assists the needy."60
Devotion to Mary shows itself in works, and the works which we needed in the Philippines today are the works of justice and freedom from oppresion. As the Church points out to us, our mission is "to be
present in the heart of the world proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted."61
97. These are some of the
reflections on Mary, the Mother of the Lord, which we wished to share with you. The knowledge of the sincere veneration of our people for Mary has given us particular comfort and joy. This veneration is not
only rooted in history but, above all, is deeply rooted in the hearts of our faithful.
We have also shared with you some insights on this devotion which is grounded solidly, as we have shown, in the teachings of the
New Testament and the life of the Church itself from her beginnings.
But these two aspects--the historical and the doctrinal--must not be considered as triumphalistic or irrelevant utterances. In offering them
to you we have a practical and pastoral aim in view: the authentic renewal of the veneration of Mary in the Philippines. This devotion must be fundamentally biblical, solidly Christological, soundly
98. The profound religiosity of our people-- call it, if you wish, popular religiosity -- will receive a powerful impulse during the celebration of the Holy Year, a year of renewal and
reconciliation. Our faith in and love for the Incarnate Lord, who took flesh in Mary, will be strengthened in the measure we try to live with and for Christ as Mary did, so that we may become, like her, his true
disciples. The Church contemplating Mary's "profound holiness"62
"admires the most excellent fruit of the redemption and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless model, that which she herself wholly desires and hopes to be."63 Our veneration of Mary,
therefore, should be an imitation of her who achieved her destiny by freely cooperating with God's love, reacting responsibly to the demands of God and neighbor during her "pilgrimage of faith."64
For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+JULIO R. CARDINAL ROSALES
Archbishop of Cebu
Manila, February 2, 1975
Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord