Today (March 25), we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. This is the day when we commemorate the visit of Saint Gabriel the Archangel to the Virgin Mary. In this visit, Gabriel announces to her that she has been chosen above all women to be the bearer of the Son, the Messiah, Jesus. Mary understands that in her culture to be engaged and become pregnant is a death sentence (for she would have been accused of adultery which is punishable by death in the Mosaic Law). Even so, Mary’s complete devotion to God was such that she agreed to be the Mother of the Messiah and to endure all the hardships which came along with that choice.
Because the Child which she conceived was both Fully God and Fully Man, Mary was given the title of God Bearer and since the Early Church she was accorded a special type of veneration. It is important to understand that the Church has never endorsed the worship of Mary, for worship only belongs to God, but the veneration of her and the other saints.
The first recorded plea for Mary’s help comes from a Coptic (Egypt) Orthodox Church liturgy of Christmas in the 3rd Century (200s) known as the Sub tuum presidium (Latin). The popular English form coming to us from Latin is this:
We fly to Thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin
This is proof that devotion to the Blessed Virgin began very early in the church and was not a ‘Catholic Invention’ that was created much later to draw the faithful away from the worship of Jesus Christ. To put it in context, this prayer was in existence before the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in AD 325, and we know that Coptic bishops attended the council, therefore is it safe at assume that the bishops of Christendom were well aware of and seem to have no issue with the growing devotion to Our Lady.
Fast forward two millennia and devotion to the Blessed Virgin is found in every corner of the Church, even the Protestants are beginning to get in on it! That brings us to the events of today and what Pope Francis asked the Roman Catholic Church to do. He asked that all the bishops of the Roman Church consecrate the nations and peoples of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
To consecrate something is to place it under the special care of that which we consecrate it to. I would argue that consecration is different than a blessing because in a blessing we are setting apart a person or an object for the specific use of God whereas in consecration we are asking God or, in this case the Virgin Mary, to keep an eye out for that person, place, or thing. This type of consecration is also different than the consecration of the Eucharist for in that, we are asking God to not only to watch after the Sacred Elements but to transform them into His Body and Blood so that we might receive God Almighty into our physical beings.
We can consecrate things and people to Christ, to the Virgin Mary, and to any saint. One might say that our Cathedral was consecrated to Saint Paul and as our holy patron, we continually ask for him to look over us and pray for us. It is important to understand that consecrating something to a saint does not negate or ignore the power of God for it is only through the saint’s holiness, as given them by God, can we ask for their help. Instead of negating God’s role, consecrating something to a saint rather glorifies God’s role because we are acknowledging that the power of Jesus Christ is shown so fully in a human, now in Heaven, that we can also ask for that human’s intercession.
The Holy Father is not just asking his section of Christendom to consecrate Ukraine and Russia to Mary, but to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a title given her by the belief in the Immaculate Conception. I have spoken of the Immaculate Conception and the Anglican view on that in a previous blog so I will not plumb those depths again. Suffice to say that nothing in our Anglican Tradition forces us to believe in the Immaculate Conception nor does anything in our Anglican Tradition force us to deny the Immaculate Conception.
One may wonder, why consecrate these nations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and not to just the Virgin Mary herself? Well, it’s a Roman thing. Romans like to focus on the Immaculate Conception because if Mary is without sin, then she is pure and the best advocate we can have with Jesus.
In any case, Pope Francis’ request to the Roman bishops comes from a deep sense of love and concern for the people of Russia and Ukraine who have been forced to fight for their lives because one man has delusions of grandeur. Though we, Anglicans, might not buy into the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, we should also heed Francis’ call to pray heartly for these nations. So then, how can we also join with our Roman brothers and sisters in their heart-felt prayers? We can and should ask for the Blessed Virgin Mary to look after these people and to intercede for them mightily at the feet of her Son. This request of Mary also must be followed by our own urgent intercession at the Throne of God. We cannot expect Mary to do it for us, rather, we are asking Our Lady to join with us in our prayers for peace.
Today, even if you have no devotion to Mary, please try to ask her to pray for peace. Please open your heart, if only for a second, to ask Our Mother to intercede for Ukraine and Russia. Please do this knowing full well that Jesus Christ understands our intentions and looks favorably upon us because we have turned our prayers to someone else.
“Blessed Mother, you who are the example of true obedience to God, please pour out the grace God has given you upon the peoples of Ukraine and Russia. Comfort the dying, console the suffering, and bring peace. Holy Mary, intercede to your Son for these people and send to them the love of God through the mighty power of the Holy Spirit. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.”