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Flowers of the fairest: she wasn't looking for a devotion to Mary, but the Blessed Mother found her anyway.

WHEN MY HUSBAND AND I WERE GETTING MARRIED, we spent most of our time planning the liturgy. We ere both working in ministry, and we attempted draw out as much rich symbolism in the celebration as possible. One traditional piece of the ceremony, however, we felt a need to change.

I was a little uncomfortable with the traditional prayer to Mary. Although I grew up in an active Catholic family, we were involved in a less traditional parish, and I had not had much exposure to the concept of a devotion to Mary. I had never seen a May crowning and had only infrequently said the rosary. So at the appropriate time at the wedding, we said a small prayer to Mary, laid a single rose by her statue, and then proceeded to hand single roses to the women in our lives. My mother, my husband's mother, our sisters, aunts, and godmothers all received a rose. It was a way of telling each of them that I appreciated their love and support and would continue to look to them for guidance as a woman, wife, and mother.

That prayer at our wedding was the start of my devotion to Mary. In my college days at the University of Dayton, I was surrounded by the Marianist charism of the school. In my coursework I learned that traditional devotions arose after the Council of Trent when liturgy became more complex. People felt the need to express their spirituality in familiar and less elaborate ways. In a sense devotions arose out of the need Christians had for making their practices of faith relate to their everyday experiences.

Changes to the liturgy since Vatican II in language, music, and overall feel have rendered devotions less common. Yet this focus on devotions as ways to relate Catholicism to our everyday experiences is how my devotion to Mary grew. I believe the single rose I laid at her feet was an invitation for her to take root in my heart.

In small ways and in major events I find myself turning to Mary in my prayer, laying ever more roses at her feet. Since my mother-in-law died, I realized I was offering a Hail Mary each time she came to mind. When one sister had a miscarriage and another gave birth 12 weeks early, I found the need to pray to God, but I sought a different comfort in sharing these losses and anxieties with Mary. As aunts died, I envisioned gathering back the roses I had handed them at our wedding and offering them to Mary so she could help gather these women to heaven.

In the peaceful moments of motherhood when a newly scrubbed toddler is wiggling in my lap and plants a kiss on my cheek, I think of Mary. When my 6-year-old comes home after a day of small failures, I gather him into my arms and say a prayer to Mary for guidance. As my daughter learned to recite the Hail Mary, she said it beautifully except that she started it "Harry Mary." I knew Mary adored her, too.

I see in the Magnificat the challenge to honor God, "who fills the hungry, scatters the proud, and remembers mercy." This, too, is a challenge I take seriously in the work of my lift. With each moment I find myself asking Mary if she experienced this, too--this joy, this challenge, this vulnerability, this love.

My mother handed me her rosary in the hospital as my son was going for tests, and the constant mantra of words and beads slipping through my fingers was enough to calm my heart as minutes passed into hours, I know Mary needed her mother's wisdom.

A girlfriend showed up at my door pregnant, searching for a face of acceptance instead of disdain. I was also pregnant, and all I could think of was Mary's visit to Elizabeth. I know Mary needed Elizabeth's friendship. As my husband and I pass each other in our hectic lives, we connect in a small hello or a gentle kiss. I know Mary needed Joseph's love.

MOTHER, NURTURER, CHALLENGER, AND CONFIDANTE ARE all feminine qualities, and although it is easy for me to envision God as feminine, I know for certain that Mary was a tremendous woman. I never thought much of a devotion to Mary, and I certainly didn't go looking for one. But I do believe Mary has supported me and walked with me on my journey as a woman. I believe she accepted the single rose at my wedding as an invitation to come into my life. In a sense it was a promise I didn't know I was making.

That rose was only the beginning.

By CHRISTINA ZAKER, who writes from Chicago.
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Title Annotation:practicing catholic
Author:Zaker, Christina
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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