The Diocese of Providence has more than 30 churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The diocese’s two oldest parishes, St. Mary’s in Newport and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Pawtucket, were founded in 1829 when Rhode Island was still under the jurisdiction of Boston. Three parishes in Bristol, Carolina, and Cranston, are known simply as St. Mary’s parish. Other St. Mary parishes have a bit broader title: St. Mary of the Bay, Warren and St. Mary Star of the Sea, Narragansett. Cranston and Westerly can also boast churches named after the Immaculate Conception as could the city of Providence until 1957 when the “old Immaculate” yielded its territory to the current Providence Post Office.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Pawtucket, servicing the Cape Verdean community, similarly honors Mary’s sinlessness. The Presentation of Mary parish in North Providence honors an event in the young life of Mary while the Assumption parish in Providence commemorates the final event in Mary’s earthly life. Mary, Mother of Mankind parish in North Providence honors Mary under one of her newer titles. Until recently the Catholics of Central Falls honored Mary under the simple French title: Notre Dame.
Three parishes, Bristol, West Warwick, and, until recently, Providence celebrate Mary under her title Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Most parish names for the Mother of Christ are drawn from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Our Lady of Consolation, Pawtucket; Our Lady of Good Counsel, West Warwick; Our Lady of Good Help, Burrilville; Our Lady of Grace, Johnston; Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich; Our Lady of the Rosary, Providence; Our Lady of Victory, Hopkinton; and Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, Woonsocket. Until recently Woonsocket also honored Mary under her title Our Lady of Victories. Some parishes commemorate Mary’s miraculous revelations in history: Our Lady of Czenstochowa, Coventry; Our Lady of Fatima, Cumberland; Our Lady of Loretto, East Providence; and Our Lady of Lourdes, East Providence.
The excellence of the Blessed Virgin Mary is likewise celebrated in Scripture, in Church doctrine, in pious devotions, as well as in art, music and poetry. And of course the saints and the scholars, the talented and the devout, who have honored Mary over the centuries are simply but rightly following the lead of the Blessed Trinity, God himself was indeed the first to honor Mary in exalted fashion. It was by God’s own design that Mary would be immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.
Again it was God Himself who brought about Mary’s virginal birth of Jesus Christ. And it was God himself who caused Mary’s greatest honor: that, because she was the mother of Jesus, who is God the Son, she could truly be called the Mother of God. The Assumption of Mary into heaven, body and soul, at the end of her earthly journey was an additional favor afforded Mary out of God’s own initiative.
It is no wonder then that the universal Church has rightly taken the lead of Himself to heart and celebrated Mary in ways sometimes exalted and sometimes humble. In the light of the constant tradition and practice of the Church, as well as of God Himself, it is ridiculous to read the last lines of this coming Sunday’s Gospel as a slight by Jesus toward his mother. St. Mark writes: “His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
It is sometimes suggested that by these words Jesus is exalting his followers over his family. Some have even hinted at an estrangement between Christ and Mary. But Jesus is not putting his mother and his kinfolk down so much as he is trying to elevate his audience. To compare his listeners to people with whom Jesus was at odds makes no sense. But to align his listeners with people for whom he was known to have great affection and respect was indeed a boost for his listeners.
The Scriptures attest to the docility of Jesus’ early years, to Christ’s compliance at Cana’s wedding, and to his filial concern even on the Cross. The tender relationship which Jesus had with his mother is held up as a model for the tender relationships Jesus would like to have with all his followers. Jesus was certainly not curtailing his love in any fashion; rather he was broadening his affections to include all his hearers then as well as all his believers through the ages.