By Eric Martin
Father Richard Leonard SJ displayed the pedigree of his reputation as a leading speaker and teacher of the Jesuit tradition during “We need all the help we can get: a sane approach to Mary and the Saints” on Wednesday 14 August at Newman Siena Centre, Doubleview.
In a delivery full of humour, pathos and participation, packed with information, Fr Leonard explained the reasoning behind the bishops’ desire to declutter the Catholic calendar in 1962 as part of the Vatican II process.
“What happened in 1962, when the bishops got [to Rome], the very first thing that they did was to clean up the liturgical books,” he said.
“Over 1000 years’ things had been added and added and added… Nothing had been taken away, so they decided to clean up the books.”
Even though many traditional prayer traditions and devotionals were abandoned (and nothing seemingly took their place), Fr Leonard stressed that the decision was not made as part of a desire to strip Catholics of their devotional life – “that was never the intention”.
“Do you know that when they got to Rome they found that there were 397 feast days in honour of Our Lady in the Roman missal? That’s like singing happy birthday twice a day – it starts to lose its punch after a little while,” Fr Leonard explained.
“So they decided, look while these are all great, we don’t know where most of them came from, they’re fairly obscure and they certainly shouldn’t be on the universal calendar”.
Fr Leonard went on to explain that at the time the decision was made, Pope Paul VI was heartbroken that the doctrine of Mary was a stumbling block in ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and other Christians.
“[Mary] is fully and truly human,” Fr Leonard stated.
“Some Catholics do worry me, they do give her divine power: Mary prays with us and for us, she is uniquely gifted and uniquely graced by God – [I’m not taking anything away from her], but she is not a member of the Trinity.
“It does worry me that sometimes I see people worshipping Our Lady,” he explained.
“Pope Paul VI said that if we want to unite the entire Christian family, all Christians can say yes to this, Mary doesn’t have to divide us, let’s focus on what unites us – and when you get inside each of those, it gets richer and richer and richer.
“I think we have to admit that the memory of Mary has been misused over the centuries to outline a line for women that is secondary or compliant, subjective and ancillary: you know, that women be meek and mild and be lowly and humble like Our Lady”.
Fr Leonard showed that the original definition of the word humble means to be grounded:
“It doesn’t mean putting yourself down, thinking of yourself as nothing, that’s not what it means at all.”
“Mary was grounded in the best possible sense, not meek and mild – in fact there was none of that at all – she stands as a model of liberation for all people in Christ, she’s pulling down prices from their thrones and out raising up the poor and announcing the year of the Lord’s favour and the freedom in Christ”. Now, he said, is not the time to throw out devotion to Our Lady, but to reclaim it as human, responsive and adaptable.
“Out of the store come riches both new and old the Lord told us, I reclaim Mary easily, happily, joyfully and well: as a prophet of God’s love; as a friend and companion in the faith, and; because I need all the help I can get until I say g’day to Jesus.”