Ever since the Second Vatican Council, debates have raged over appropriate Catholic devotion to Mary, so-called minimalists rejecting traditional affirmations and imagery not rooted in the biblical text and maximalists seeking to retain and expand traditional approaches. The two groups appear to agree only that devotion to "biblicalplus Mary" is always identified with conservative positions on social issues. In Missing Mary, Charlene Spretnak seeks to refute that general consensus, arguing that by turning from Mary, "progressive" Catholic women have deprived themselves of "profound female power" with the potential to heal the antagonism between the three Abrahamic religions, "Christianity's fixation with vertical transcendence," and humanity's "tragic alienation from the unfolding story of the cosmos."
The "radical demotion" of Mary from Mother of the Church to one of its members Sprenak attributes to the Council's embrace of modernism in the name of rapprochement with non-Catholic Christians. She argues that the Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, and Freudian psychology were stages in a gradual progression away from the medieval cosmological and mystical approach to reality, but the Catholic Church resisted this progression by remaining the champion of "big Mary" up until its "tragic and unnecessary" capitulation to modernism, ironically just as the rest of the world was moving into post-modernity. She asserts that the Church must now reclaim Mary as Queen of Heaven, creating a new synthesis of traditional wisdom with contemporary science's organic understanding of the cosmos. While acknowledging that some members of the hierarchy, notably John Paul II, have sought to reverse Mary's diminishment, Spretnak claims that now as throughout history, the movement to glorify Mary is essentially a grassroots movement. In the early centuries the laity sensed the need for a female presence to balance Christianity's male God and savior and borrowed from pre-Christian goddess worship the sense of Mary as "cosmological, bountiful, and caring" advocate. Indeed Spretnak maintains that this syncretism was responsible for the conversion of virtually the whole Mediterranean world to Christianity. At present lay movements range from subversively powerful devotion to the La Virgen de Guadalupe, "Mother of the God of Great Truth," to Vox Populi, which calls for a formal and official affirmation of Mary as Co-Redeemer.
The book appears to be a collection of talks, passionate but of uneven quality, with considerable repetition and incomplete development of a number of points, including the assertion that Islam accepts the medieval Catholic view of Mary. Many will quarrel with her sole reliance on Andrew Greeley among contemporary "theologians," as well as her analysis of Vatican II, including its "sudden" push for ecumenism. Moreover, if modernism has so infected the council's approach to Mary, it is difficult to see how it cannot have affected its other reforms, which Spretnak applauds. While calling for synthesis, she tends to dichotomize positions and those who espouse them, insisting that a text-based approach reduces Mary to "Just a Housewife," and viewing any "demotion" of Mary as a form of (male) conspiracy, while expressing uncritical enthusiasm for all forms of contemporary devotion, from the rosary and pilgrimages to sightings. And yet rhetoric and exaggerations aside, Spretnak is correct in asserting that many progressive Catholics have accepted, equally uncritically, the modernist critique of "big Mary." Those who share her belief that Mary "reflects who we are, where we are, what we are, and what we might become if we bring our consciousness into attunement with divine grace" would do well to heed her call to reconsider the Catholic tradition's celebration of the Queen of Heaven.