A Dutch theologian has questioned the revival in COVID-19 times of what he called the “museum piece” consecrations of countries to Mary.
– “Theologically problematic and controversial”
Writing April 30 in La Croix, France-based theologian and journalist Hendro Munsterman recalled that after a wave of national consecrations to the Virgin in Portugal, Spain, Estonia, Ireland and countries in Latin America, the Italian and US bishops are preparing to carry out the same ritual in their nations in coming days.
But even if done out of a desire to implore the Virgin’s protection, healing and wisdom in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, “‘consecrating’ a country or region to Mary (or the ‘Immaculate Heart of Mary’) is theologically problematic and controversial”, Munsterman affirmed.
– Against 2001 Vatican guidelines
Why is “consecrating” a country to Mary so dubious?
In the first place, Munsterman said that the practice goes against instructions set out in a 2001 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy published by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship.
Those instructions affirmed that “liturgical theology and the consequent rigorous use of terminology would suggest reserving the term consecration for those self-offerings which have God as their object, and which are characterized by totality and perpetuity, which are guaranteed by the Church’s intervention and have as their basis the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation”.
“In other words, we cannot consecrate ourselves to Mary, and certainly not outside the sacraments of initiation”, Munsterman explained.
Not only that, continued the theologian, but also national consecretations to the Virgin run the risk of using terms “that threaten to water down the essential distinction between Mary as a creature and God as Creator”, in the face of which risks “these traditions must be adjusted and reoriented”.
Even Pope John Paul II moved away from the idea of “consecration” to that of “entrustment”, Munsterman observed.
For example, after the assassination attempt he suffered in 1981, and which shift was picked up by the Pontifical International Marian Academy in 2005.
Pope Francis later followed in John Paul II’s footsteps when he visited Fátima in 2017, explicitly praying to Mary: “I entrust myself to you”:
– A practice “with apocalyptic overtones”
Beyond the theological problems with the consecrations of countries to Mary, there are also troublesome cultural issues involved with the practice as well, Munsterman explained.
Devotions to the Virgin and to patron saints – essentially medieval in origin and character – no longer make the sense in our modern, democratic societies that they did in the feudal world, the theologian warned.
The danger, according to Munsterman, is that with consecrations and like practices “Mary is still presented as queen to whom we surrender as slavish soldiers. The risk is that she becomes more like a pagan mother goddess who can exist outside the bond with the Triune God”.
“From being a personal, medieval cult of piety, consecration to Mary has grown into a devotion that often has apocalyptic overtones, not least inspired by a maximalist interpretation of the Fatima apparitions”, the theologian denounced.
– “Why must all popular devotion revolve around Mary and other saints?”
Munsterman concluded his piece in La Croix with a reminder of the place of Mary in Catholic theology as compared with that of God.
“Mary does not possess her own ‘power of action’ on a supernatural level. This, of course, belongs explicitly to God alone”, the theologian explained, adding: “Thus, it is possible to consecrate oneself (not other individuals or countries) to God; but to God alone and not to Mary or any other saint”.
“Why must all popular devotion revolve around Mary and other saints?”, Munsterman went on to ask, observing that “many Catholic theologians have rightly pointed out in recent decades that Mary often takes the place of the Holy Spirit, for example as ‘Advocate’ and ‘Comforter'”.
And it is precisely to the Third Person of the Trinity that Catholics should be turning to in these days of pandemic, according to Munsterman, instead of “cling[ing] to devotional practices that have been surpassed by their own Catholic theology”.
“Believers could pray the good old Novena to the Holy Spirit – together or individually. And they could burn a candle each day in every Christian home. Please, let us try something new!”, the theologian urged.