For Catholics, it’s fairly par for the course to be questioned by non-Catholics about the Blessed Virgin Mary at some point.
And that’s probably because the Catholic Church has a lot to say about her. Church teaching holds that Mary was conceived without sin, that she maintains perpetual virginity, that she conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that she was assumed into heaven, among many other things.
A new book, the Manual for Marian Devotion, provides the context and answers for all kinds of questions about Marian doctrine, as well as prayers and stories for growth in personal devotion.
The Manual was produced by TAN Books in conjunction with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, and so has a touch of Dominican flavor throughout.
“They wanted it to reflect the charism and the spirituality of our community to a certain extent, so it was really great to work with them,” said Sr. Albert Marie, who along with another Dominican Sister helped write the book.
The manual is divided into two sections. The first part provides explanations of Marian teachings and doctrines, while the second includes various Marian prayers and stories of Marian miracles for personal devotion.
“It’s not an aggressive apologetics, it’s just: this is what the church teaches, this is why it’s beautiful, this is how it can touch your life,” Sr. Albert Marie told CNA.
It also differs from a Marian consecration book, such as the one by St. Louis de Monfort, in that it provides context and information about Mary rather than focusing on one particular path of devotion, Sr. Albert Marie said.
“This might be coming out of my own personal prayer life and spirituality, but before I do something – whether it’s a particular prayer or devotion – I want to know the why and the big picture before I’m taken by the more particular details,” she said.
“I think there’s a lot of people in the Catholic Church who are growing up realizing that the Catholic Church is beautiful, or who are interested in Mary, but need a little more of that intellectual formation to see where exactly does she fit, or how clearly do we think about her,” which is where the manual can be particularly helpful, Sr. Albert Marie added.
One of the biggest roadblocks to Marian devotion for some people is that they seem to get caught up in the otherness and special graces granted to Mary, which can make her seem distant or inaccessible, Sr. Albert Marie said.
But the faithful shouldn’t be intimidated by Mary, she added. She received special graces necessary for her particular role, but her privileges do not mean that she “shines down on us” as something separate and different forever, but rather as someone who paved the way to Christ and to Heaven.
Mary also provides women with a unique example of Christian holiness, she said.
“The way that a mother models to her children what it means to be an adult woman, there’s a way that Mary’s privilege and holiness…gives us an image of Christian holiness to move towards,” she said.
The manual also comes during the 100th anniversary year of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, in which Mary appeared to three children for six months in 1917. She brought messages about the importance of prayer and making reparation for sin, as well as messages about the World Wars and the future of the Church. During the sixth and final apparition, on October 13, the sun appeared to miraculously dance in the sky.
This anniversary year is important because it’s a time in which the whole Church turns with special and renewed devotion to Mary, Sr. Albert Marie said.
But her favorite Marian miracle described in the manual is much less dramatic than Fatima or some of the other more well-known Marian miracles, she said.
It’s called “She Helps the Friars Preach”, and recalls a simple story of a Dominican Friar who decided at the last minute to ditch his prepared sermon in favor of one that was divinely inspired.
A Cistercian monk who witnessed the small miracle said he could see Mary next to the friar, holding up a book. The Cistercian said the preachers seemed “to speak better and with greater profit to souls, and farm more fervently than he had done for a long time.”
It’s a simple story, but close to Sr. Albert Marie’s heart in her roles both as a Dominican and as a teacher, she said.
“That’s one story that will never be brought for anyone’s canonization, nothing will be done with it, it’s just the testimony of one person,” she said. “But it’s an example of that very simple presence and help of Mary in daily life.”
Sr. Albert Marie also said that she hopes the different stories of Marian miracles and the different quotes about Mary from various saints will help readers foster their own unique relationship with their Mother.
“For everyone who reads the manual or prays to our lady, there’s going to be a particular feel to that relationship, and it’s going to be unique because it is a personal relationship between them and with her,” she said.
The manual is available through TAN books on their website at: https://www.tanbooks.com/index.php/manual-for-marian-devotion.html. It is the second in a series of devotional books being produced by the publisher.