Friday, May 1, 2020, may turn out to be the most important day in the course of this coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis we Americans are living through together — the day the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) leads us in a reconsecration of our nation to the Blessed Mother.
“Through a collective dedication or entrustment of a nation to Mary, an act of consecration is meant to be a reminder to the faithful of the Blessed Mother’s witness to the Gospel and to ask for her effective intercession before her Son on behalf of those in need,” explained the USCCB April 23 in a message announcing the event.
What does that mean for you and me? When we consecrate ourselves to God through the Blessed Mother, we are making a powerful invitation for them to be more a part of our lives.
The importance of this invitation cannot be understated.
Before this current crisis, we had other crises. Certainly, some of us may feel like we are struggling, going without the sacraments and, in many cases, stripped of the comforts and habits that helped us feel like we were moving ahead in life with some degree of success, too.
But it helps to keep in mind what our culture was like leading up to this pandemic. Some of our most heated debates revolved around identity politics. It seemed we would get wrathfully angry at one another at the mere mention of a name. It was dangerous territory.
And this health crisis that is causing unprecedented sickness, death, and economic collapse is now exacerbating it all. At a time when we should feel some kind of solidarity as vulnerable human beings, we watch the same old anger seemingly get worse.
So how can Mary help? She’s our mother! And as the mother of God, who carried Jesus in her womb and raised him and lived with him and walked with him in his passion and held him in his death, there is no sorrow she does not know, there is no injustice unfamiliar to her.
When people are being their most irrational out of fear, she is near. She felt the grave, horrific consequences of the sickness of sin in every fiber of her being. There is no one who could understand every kind of grief and anxiety we are facing more than our Blessed Mother.
There’s also a beautiful calendar alignment, as the reconsecration comes just days after St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s April 28 feast day. God used him to make consecration to Mary part of Church tradition. And as often happens with those things that are “of God,” it came with considerable suffering for him, as those around him persecuted him for his rigorous piety.
He talked about making ourselves “slaves” to our Blessed Mother, a phrase that may arouse suspicion in contemporary language. But when we consider that she is the most perfect disciple of Jesus, closer to him than anyone who has ever lived on this earth, isn’t that precisely who we want to model our lives on?
Teach me your ways, Mary!
On the first day of the month traditionally set aside to honor Mary, we beg this in reconsecration as a nation. We can recall the words of St. De Montfort, who famously said that “the surest, easiest, shortest, and the most perfect means” to becoming a saint is consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary.
In his popular Marian consecration book based on St. De Montfort, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” Father Michael Gaitley quotes St. De Montfort as assuring that “if we establish solid devotion to our Blessed Lady, it is only to establish more perfectly devotion to Jesus Christ, and to provide an easy and secure means for finding Jesus Christ.”
Who would not want to go along that path? Especially now in a time of such uncertainty?
“Consecration to Mary is a Cristo-centric act of faith, hope and love that stirs the Lord’s heart, and our heart,” points out Kathleen Beckman, editor of “When Women Pray.”
“Reconsecration to Mary reminds me of when a married couple renews their vows to one another,” says Beckman, whose chapter in the book is on having a Marian heart, receptive to all God has to offer.
Beckman also points out that “over time we are at different stages of friendship with Jesus and Mary, and so in the spiritual life that is always growing, each time that we recommit to Mary and Jesus, it’s possible to grow deeper in faith, hope and love.”
For Father Edward Looney, author of “A Heart Like Mary’s” and “Our Lady of Good Help: A Prayer Book for Pilgrims,” the reconsecration brings to mind the figure of the “disciple that Jesus loved.”
“In the gospel of John, it records Jesus’ entrustment of Mary to John and John to Mary. John stands in place of us all,” says Father Looney.
“I see Marian consecration as a way for believers to accept Mary as their mother. The saints have often said that God wishes to dispense grace to the world through the intercession and mediation of Mary. Consecration is us giving our lives to Jesus through the hands of Mary.”
Father Looney, who is a priest of Green Bay, Wisconsin, says that the U.S. bishops haven’t invented anything new here.
“When an individual makes a consecration to Mary, it is customary and recommended to go through the process and reconsecrate oneself,” he told Angelus. “It is a renewal and reminder of Mary’s role in our lives. Every time we pray the ‘Memorare,’ we ask Mary to ‘Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary.’ Reconsecration in a sense isn’t just a reminder for ourselves, but also a reminder to Mary to not forget us who are her children.”
Consecration is a statement of faith and has a rich history, even in our country. In their announcement, the bishops recalled that the first bishop of the United States, John Carroll, had a devotion to Mary and placed the new nation under her protection in 1792. She would later be named our patroness as a country.
Father Looney recalls one of many other examples that you won’t find in many history books, like “the Ursuline nuns in New Orleans who during the Battle of New Orleans promised each year to pray the ‘Te Deum’ in gratitude for an end to the battle. More than 200 years later, on the feast of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, the people gather at the Ursuline Convent and fulfill this promise.”
In the time of the coronavirus, Father Looney believes, “we are in essence asking Mary to be our mother, advocate, an intercessor. We ask her to watch over our country, obtain healings, and to ask Jesus to do something miraculous. In desperate times, we turn to heavenly aid and assistance, realizing we cannot do it on our own.”
On May 1, Father Looney suggests making the day an intense day of prayer and fasting. Watch the livestream of the consecration, pray the rosary, and add the prayers Pope Francis has suggested adding to the praying of the rosary.
“As the country is reconsecrated to Mary, it is an opportunity for us to renew our Marian devotion and maybe add something extra during the month of May.”
Beckman suggests we pray in a particular way for the bishops, who need our prayers as they make decisions about how to prudently reopen churches and get the sacraments to the faithful.
We can also renew our person and family consecrations to Jesus through Mary and add acts of reparation to our days during May, “offering up of suffering, releasing anxiety and fear to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Mother is a fierce protector against sickness, evil and darkness. This should be a cause of joy and peace — even in a crisis.”
Whatever you are doing this Friday, take a pause and join Catholics around the country to go to her as one, entrusting ourselves and everyone in our nation to the loving care of God through Our Lady. Put every fear, sorrow, anxiety, uncertainty, and suffering into your prayer and ask that going forward, every day be spent loving our neighbor and seeing Christ in every unwelcome surprise, including the coronavirus.