The Holy Eucharist and Marian Devotion

Michael F. Hull

October 31, 2005


Devotion to the Holy Eucharist and devotion to Our Lady are so closely bound as to be inseparable. As Mother and Son are united in an “indissoluble tie” (Lumen gentium, no. 53), so too devotion to Mother and Son are tightly linked. This is expressed most beautifully by the medieval religious poem “Ave Verum,” immortalized as a motet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791.

In his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the late Pope John Paul II devotes the sixth and final chapter to Mary, which he entitles “At the School of Mary: ‘Woman of the Eucharist.’” Therein, the pope points out significant parallels in the lives of Jesus and Mary. For example, Jesus’ words at the Last Supper—“Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19)—echo Mary’s words at the Wedding at Cana—“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Likewise, Mary’s Fiat to the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:38) prefigures the Amen of each communicant at the reception of Holy Communion. Speaking of Mary’s own reception of Holy Communion after the Lord’s Paschal Mystery, John Paul remarks: “For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the Cross” (EE, no. 56). Mutatis mutandis, we are also brought to the foot of the Cross in Holy Communion, where we are united not only with the Lord, but also with the stabat Mater dolorosa. Finally, we find Our Lord entrusting his Mother to St. John, who as the “beloved disciple” had such a prominent place at the bosom of Jesus at the Last Supper, and St. John to his Mother (John 19:26­–27). Holy tradition recounts how Mary and St. John eventually settled at Ephesus, the place where Mary kept so much in her heart until her Assumption (cf. Luke 2:33–35 and 2:51).

During the public ministry of the Lord, Mary is rarely in the foreground. Except for the Wedding at Cana—when Jesus prefigured his miracle of the Eucharist by turning water into wine at Mary’s request (John 2:1–11)—and at the foot of the Cross—when Jesus concluded his Passion (John 19:25)—Mary is always in the background. Her presence is always pointing toward her Son. And that is the very heart of Marian devotion: a strong, omnipresent, and relatively silent expression of devotion to the will of God oriented to his and her Son.

Throughout the history of the Church, the saints have understood this truth. Two examples will suffice. In the fourth century, St. Ambrose expressed the hope that all of his people would inculcate the spirit of Mary as a means to glorify God: “May the heart of Mary be in each Christian to proclaim the greatness of the Lord; may her spirit be in everyone to exult in God.” Similarly, fourteen hundred years later St. John Bosco had a vision of two pillars anchoring the bark of Peter in the midst of a stormy sea: the pillar of the Eucharist and the pillar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The larger pillar, that of the Eucharist, had the words “Salvation of Believers” and the smaller, that of Mary, “Help of Christians.”

Mary is, indeed, the help of Christians, leading them to Jesus and the Eucharist. Devotion to Our Lady is always together with devotion to Our Lord, especially in the Eucharist, as the Church sings: “Ave verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine….”