At a time when it difficult to find a introduction to Mary of Nazareth which is neither dismissive nor smothered in trite religious language, Mary Hines gives us an accessible presentation which should appeal even to those who are reserved about the area of Marian devotion. He question is: "Does Mary have a place in Christian spirituality of the future?"
Hines notes that Mary has played a symbolic role in the Christian imagination in the history of Christianity. This is not a negative thing because it means that the figure of May has been a way in which Christians have come to know more about themselves and God. Because of this symbolic role Mary has been central figure for artists and poets. The exaggeration that has surrounded so much of Marian devotion and literature is an indication that the language of God has been so exclusively male. What we are saying about Mary is often a way of talking about God. Nevertheless, in the period after the Second Vatican Council there has been a marginalization of Mary, even in Catholicism. Hines hopes to find new approaches to Mary suitable for today. These will be more sensitive to the experience of women. She notes that most of the Marian devotion has been developed by men, celibate men in particular. Hines takes up the challenge of Karl Rahner that a renewed devotion to Mary will take women's experience seriously and will flow from that experience.
This short volume has four brief chapters: The Origins of Devotion to Mary, The Many Faces of Mary, We Fly to Thy Patronage and New Directions. There is a great deal food for reflection in each of the chapters although they are short. This reflects Hines' ability to come immediately to the point. In the chapter on origins of Marian devotion she reminds the reader that there is really very little that we know about Mary of Nazareth and that devotion to her with all of its additions which are not historically verifiable indicates that Mary was honored as a symbol (often unconsciously) from early times. While this is not a bad thing, it is good to go back to this young Jewish woman who responded to God's call as a reality check on what later developed in history, theology and art.
In The Many Faces of God Hines examines several images of Mary: Every Virgin, Mother of God and Our Mother and Mary Immaculate. She acknowledges the ambiguity found in these images. Mary as ever virgin can be seen as a denigration of human sexuality while also being a call for women to realize that they do not need to define themselves in terms of a man. In the image of the Mother of God, while on the one hand we are dealing with solid church doctrine we also must accept the fact that this popular devotion often comes near to crossing the line into making her divine. Mary Immaculate is not simply about Mary but about what will be for all of us, the preservation from bodily (as different from of the flesh) corruption.
Unfortunately, the high regard in which Mary is held has not improved the situation of women in the church. She has been placed on a pedestal that is inaccessible to all women. Taking her cue from Karl Rahner, Hines concludes this chapter with the notion that the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption do not refer to Mary alone but to her as representative of all of us in terms of our own destiny. She understands Vatican Two as having made a major shift in understanding; for now Mary is more a model of discipleship within the community of believers rather than an exalted figure above it. The problem remains with contemporary language that exalts Mary's virginity at the same time as it raises up her motherhood, thus marginalizing both the women who forego motherhood and those who embrace it. The shift that took place at Vatican Two was to move away from a privilege oriented understanding of Mary to one who is one of us, our sister in the faith, the one who goes ahead of us to show us what discipleship is. In this Mary is a model for all Christians, not just women.
Perhaps, it is no surprise that after the Vatican Council devotion to Mary waned. She seemed secondary to the major needed reforms in other areas of church life. And what devotion there was had little impact on the theology of the time. One of the major causes was the growing consciousness that traditional devotion to Mary was being used to keep women in their place in the church and the world. And because so many exciting and spiritually uplifting things were happening in the biblical, liturgical, ecumenical and feminist movements, it was easy for women to fill in the hole left by the rejection of the devotion to Mary of the past with these new insights. But recently there has been a renaissance of interest in Mary. These new approaches to Mary build on the same just mentioned movements as a way of integrating Mary once again into Christian spirituality.
Part of the reason for this renewed interest in Mary is the realization of what a great loss to Christian spirituality it is when such a powerful feminine figure is lost to the church. But Mary herself needed to be freed from all the idealized projections that have been placed upon her. She is our companion disciple and sister in the faith.
In a final chapter, New Directions, Hines gives some indication of what direction Marian piety is moving. The various liberation theologies will bring out Mary's prophetic role in greater detail. This Mary is a woman of strength, a co-worker with Jesus in his mission, and a preacher of the Word. This Mary will be more fully embodied. She will communicate a positive value to sexuality and the human body. She will not be a model only for women but for all Christians. The more we become used to employing feminine images for God rather than ones which are exclusively masculine, Mary will be able to become the human sister to all rather than a female image of the divine. None of this derogates from her preeminent place in the communion of the saints. It would be difficult to find a more comprehensive and up-to-date presentation of Mary than the brief one that Mary Hines presents in her book.