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What are Marian devotions and how can they enrich your faith?

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"Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother?"

Our Lady of Guadalupe reportedly spoke these words to St. Juan Diego in1531, but they remain a powerful reminder that Mary is not only the mother of God but also our spiritual mother who wants the faithful to surrender their worries to her protection and love.

During May, the church encourages Catholics to celebrate and deepen their relationship with Our Lady. One way to do this is through Marian devotions, or acts of prayer. The most familiar Marian devotion is the rosary, but there is a rich tradition of other devotions in the church. Some devotions are tied to images, such as the Black Madonna of Poland, or apparitions, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Fatima. Many are related to the liturgical calendar, and all are "an expression of our love for Our Mother, but with the awareness she will help us to know her Son," said Father Matthew H. Zuberbueler, pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.

Mary's role in our faith "is critical," said Joshua Benson, associate professor of historical and systematic theology at Catholic University in Washington. "God often acts not just directly. He works through all kinds of people and things, but Mary is one person He uniquely singles out."

When we don't understand what God is doing in our lives, Mary is the perfect person to turn to because "she had the experience of remaining faithful, despite not always knowing what her Son's plan was and despite the suffering she endured," Benson said.

At times, it can be less intimidating to go to Mary, added Father Zuberbueler. "Sometimes she feels more approachable to us than God."

"Mary is family," Father Zuberbueler said. Along with the communion of saints, "her love for God helps us; all she wants is for us to have what they have and for us to go to (her and the saints) for help."

The Council of Ephesus in 431 defined Mary as Theotokos, meaning "God-Bearer" or "Mother of God," but the title had been bestowed on her since the early church, said Benson, pointing to the third-century prayer Sub Tuun Praesidium - which begins "We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God."

As a mother, "she offers a warmth but also a depth," said Father Zuberbueler, and through Marian devotions, she can help enrich our spirituality.

"It's almost inexplicable," he said, "but as the mother of our souls, she can bring about growth, understanding and confidence."

Marian devotions for May and year-round:

The brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

A scapular is two small panels of cloth, either oblong or square, connected by a loop of string. It should be worn continually around the neck as a silent prayer.

There are many scapulars, but the best known is the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. According to tradition, in 1251 Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite. She handed him a scapular and said: "This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire."

To gain this promise, available to all Catholics, a priest must enroll you in the Confraternity of the Scapular. For more information on the devotion or to obtain a scapular, which must be wool, go to this website of the Carmelite nuns.

The Angelus

This prayer, with origins in 11th-century Italy, commemorates the mystery of the Incarnation - that the Son of God assumed complete human nature and was born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. It traditionally is recited at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.

The angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary …

And the Word was made flesh: And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary …

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

The Loreto Litanies

Containing many titles for Mary, the litany was approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587. Over the years, the church has added invocations, including "Queen Conceived Without Original Sin" and "Queen of Families." Below is a portion of the prayer. For the complete litany, go to the Vatican website.

Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

Christ hear us.

Christ graciously hear us.

God, the Father of heaven,

have mercy on us.

God the Son, Redeemer of the World,

God the Holy Spirit,

Holy Trinity, one God,

Holy Mary, pray for us.

Holy Mother of God,

Holy Virgin of Virgins,

Mother of Christ,

Mother of the Church,

Mother of Divine Grace …

Virgin Most Renowned,

Virgin Most Powerful,

Virgin Most Merciful,

Virgin Most Faithful,

Mirror of Justice,

Seat of Wisdom,

Cause of Our Joy,

Spiritual Vessel,

Vessel of Honor,

Singular Vessel of Devotion,

Mystical Rose …

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary,

Queen of Families,

Queen of Peace …

Mary, Undoer of Knots novena

Pope Francis encouraged devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots as an Argentine archbishop and has shared his love for the devotion as pontiff.

The theology behind Mary, Undoer of Knots likely goes back to the second century and St. Irenaeus, who wrote: "The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith." For the full novena (a nine-day prayer), go here. The prayer begins:

Dearest Holy Mother, Most Holy Mary, you undo the knots that suffocate your children. Extend your merciful hands to me. I entrust to you today this knot (mention your request here) and all the negative consequences that it provokes in my life.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016