The Confirmation retreat this weekend went on without a hitch. We arrived with plenty of time to set up the space for both our drama and our talks, meet with small group leaders, and spend some time in the chapel. There were about 54 kids there, freshmen in high school. We were able to cover a great many topics throughout the course of the day. For many of them, it was their first time in adoration or their first time hearing what choosing a confirmation name means.
One question we received gave me pause: "In those idols, why is Mary always wearing a hood?"
At first I was shocked to hear Our Lady called an idol, since that is a charge Catholics have been answering to for centuries. Now even Catholics have lost their sense of who Our Lady is? And then my shock turned to puzzlement. A hood? When does Our Lady wear a hood? I can't quite picture Her hanging in the 'hood with bling and a hoodie on. Ahhh… the veil.
To answer the second point first, the veil Our Lady is always depicted with is culturally what women wore when she was alive. To show her with it is to be accurate to history. But, as with all things in the Church, this fact also has symbolical meaning. To cover one’s head as been throughout history an act of submission to God, a recognition of one’s place as a created being in the presence of the Creator. You can see this working out even when you get in trouble with your parents: you hang your head to show how sorry you are inside. Same idea with the veil. You are admitting that there is someone over you to whom you owe something. Both for Our Lady and for us, the veil is a visible sign of the invisible virtues of modesty and humility one’s heart. If you have ever wondered why you may see a woman wearing a veil in church, now you know what it symbolizes and that she is doing it in imitation of Our Lady’s modesty and humility.
The second part is even more important to our identity as Catholics: an appreciation for Our Lady, not as an idol, but as a Queen and Mother. She is God's gift to His Church. On the cross, when He made His will, He left His beloved Mother to John, and through him to us. He made Himself our brother and now He shares His mother with us. She is not just by chance the mother of God, but part of a specific plan formed from the beginning of time. In Genesis, after the Fall, God promised the coming of a Woman who would crush the head of Satan with her heel, a new woman to balance the wrong done by Eve. As Mother of God, Our Lady occupies a position that no other man or woman will ever be able to surpass. God created her without Original Sin and filled her with His grace so that the most perfect woman would be His mother. And she is not simply the counterpart to our earthly mothers who bore us and in that capacity deserving of honor like we honor our mother, but she is also deserving of our prayers as the Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of All Graces. She is co-redeemer because God decided to make her an integral part of His plan to save the world. She is not equal to Jesus, but it is only through Her that He became Incarnate, truly man and truly God. She is the Mediatrix (a woman who is a mediator) of All Graces because in His redeeming plan, He chose to make Our Lady the channel through which grace enters the world. We cannot forget that God chose to honor her in this way and that He does not do anything without sufficient cause and or purpose. She is not the giver of grace because she is the originator of the grace, but because God decided to give her the role of the one who dispenses the graces won by Jesus to us her children. (See for more info and Church documents: http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/marya4.html)
We do not worship Our Lady as we do God. She is not an idol that we have set up as equal to God. But we do honor Her and pray to Her for assistance and intercession with her Divine Son, as He Himself desires. She is a most powerful queen to whom the King is pleased to listen to. She is the perfect imitator of Her Son, and through Her we learn to imitate Him too. She sits closes to God, and through Her we may make our petitions to God. Pray for us, O most holy Mother of God!