Praying for Peace with Sighs Too Deep for Words

Consecration

Last night, at a Mass for the Solemnity of  the Annunciation, I joined with my fellow Catholics in consecrating Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

I know that to consecrate something is to solemnly set it apart for a holy purpose and I know that the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the way we Catholics talk about the sinless inner life of the Mother of God, an analogue to her Son’s Sacred Heart. But I don’t know exactly what it means to bring these two notions together. And the lengthy prayer by which this consecration was accomplished didn’t really shed a ton of light on the matter.  We prayed, “Therefore, Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine.” But what exactly does it means to consecrate nation states to someone’s inner life? I also don’t know exactly what I think of the Fatima prophecies with which this act of consecration is linked.  And I don’t know exactly what this will accomplish, particularly when, after Pope Francis’s announcement of the act of consecration, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow likewise asked Russians to pray to Mary, though for presumably somewhat different outcomes.

But prayer is not about precision, and while I may not know exactly what we were doing, I know that we were doing what we could. Perhaps the key phrase was, “At this hour, a weary and distraught humanity stands with you beneath the cross, needing to entrust itself to you and, through you, to consecrate itself to Christ.” We were placing the violence and warfare of the world within the heart of Mary, a heart freed from the violence of sin and yet pierced by the sword of sorrow, and through her intercession giving our world into the hands of Christ. When I try to chart out all the conceptual aspects of this, the lines can get somewhat tangled. But isn’t that always the way with prayer? We do not want to pray unintelligently, but we also cannot evade the ultimately mysterious aspect of all our acts of prayer, in which the Spirit groans within us with sighs too deep for words.

Our Cathedral was fuller than I have seen it since the coronavirus pandemic began. Some of the hundreds who came were Ukrainian Catholics (they gave themselves away by the “backward” way they made the sign of the cross). Some were probably Fatima devotees, who had been waiting decades for this moment. But I suspect most were typical Latin Rite Catholics who have been horrified and moved to pity by the war in Ukraine, and who have felt helpless to respond. They came because they sensed that in moments of extreme helplessness there is nothing more powerful that we can do than to turn our helplessness over to the sinless Mother of God, and through her to her crucified and risen Son.

13 comments

  1. Thank you for these thoughtful and charitable comments, Fritz. I too have lots of questions (ecumenical and theological) about this initiative, and it worries me that sentimentality and fantasy seem to be in the ascendant and are commanding assent — when they ought to be quite optional exercises and they are surely not “the only thing we can do.”

    Here are just a few of the issues: Consecrating anybody against their will cannot be done. The Orthodox do not accept the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Why are we foregrounding Fatima instead of appealing to the heart of Jesus? Pope John Paul II already held this consecration; didn’t it “take”?

    Our faith tradition has enormous prayer resources for meeting catastrophes and confronting evil. Only two are being invoked here: penance, and the protection of Mary. I am not against these, but what about the rest?

  2. I think there is a little bit of an over interpretation going on here. The Church’s mission is to fulfill the original role of Adam in offering and rightly ordering all of creation back to God. It is true in some technical definitions of consecration, you cannot consecrate anyone against their will, but the general vibe of consecrating Russia and Ukraine is to pray that they become holy, healed, made just and peaceful and that they become true disciples of Christ.

    As for why Mary, well she is the Queen Mother at Jesus’s right hand and sometimes often portrayed as Christ’s throne in addition to the Cherubim. Eastern Catholics and Orthodox have a feast in October dedicated to her Protection in memory of an apparition of Mary protecting Constantinople from foreign invasion in the 10th Century. There is also Our Lady of Victory/Rosary that was invoked to protect Christian lands against the Ottoman Empire. And of course the Fatima apparition where invoking the Blessed Mother is believed to have led to the fall of Communism within Russia.

    While in Catholic thought immaculate has overtone of Augustine’s view of original sin and Mary’s conception, the Orthodox do describe her as immaculate, all holy, and sometimes pre-sanctified. But perhaps more importantly, invoking Mary’s Immaculate Heart is just a fancy way of saying that her heart is pure, free from all that would impede compassion. She is always ready to help and bestow gifts of healing and grace. Also, if consecrating Mary worked once with Russia, why not try it again?

    1. That’s a good point, if it worked once why not again and again and again. The same is true of the Mass. Of course the one historic Sacrifice of Christ is sufficient and for all times, why the heck celebrate it and make is visibly present each day and every hour of the day throughout the world and for particular intentions and people? Of course we do bless and or consecrate objects. Perhaps consecrating the world is setting the world aside for specific prayer requests and an outpouring of God’s love, mercy and change of direction regardless if some in the world don’t appreciate it or understand it. The same can be said of the Paschal Mystery, Christ’s redemption is for all but not all want it. But we don’t stop offering Masses for them, praying for them and consecrating them to God. In the long run, they may be grateful one day!

  3. “Also, if consecrating Mary worked once with Russia, why not try it again?”
    Complete fiction. That’s what I mean about “flight into fantasy.”
    What was Our Lady doing from 1918 to 1984? Waiting for John Paul to consecrate Russia to her? Why did it take 5 more years for Mary to get the message and cause communism to collapse in 1989? This is all fantasy.
    I am sure my objections will convince no one if their mind is already made up. But good luck to Ukraine if they have to wait 5 years for the consecration to produce any effect. I believe in miracles, but this is all mixed up with magical thinking.

  4. I think Pope Francis himself put it best when he said the following in his sermon during the ceremony:

    “Today, renewed by forgiveness, may we too knock at the door of her immaculate heart. In union with the Bishops and faithful of the world, I desire in a solemn way to bring all that we are presently experiencing to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I wish to renew to her the consecration of the Church and the whole of humanity, and to consecrate to her in a particular way the Ukrainian people and the Russian people who, with filial affection, venerate her as a Mother. This is no magic formula but a spiritual act. It is an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their Mother. It is like what young children do when they are scared; they turn to their mother for protection. We turn to our Mother, reposing all our fears and pain in her heart and abandoning ourselves to her. It means placing in that pure and undefiled heart, where God is mirrored, the inestimable goods of fraternity and peace, all that we have and are, so that she, the Mother whom the Lord has given us, may protect us and watch over us.

    Mary then uttered the most beautiful words that the angel could bring back to God: “Let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). Hers was no passive or resigned acceptance, but a lively desire to obey God, who has “plans for welfare and not for evil” (Jer 29:11). Hers was the most intimate sharing in God’s plan of peace for the world. We consecrate ourselves to Mary in order to enter into this plan, to place ourselves fully at the disposal of God’s plans.”

  5. It’s not so much the ‘consecration’ of people and things to the Mother of God that seems to me to be an excursion into fantasy (though it does reek a little of medieval notions of patronage), but claims that such consecration has ‘worked.’ I agree with Rita here, and I hope it would not be thought too sacrilegious to remark that the BVM took her time, not to mention all the dreadful things that happened in Russia during those dark years.

    Isn’t all prayer made under the rubric ‘Thy will be done …’ Prayer is not magic. That’s where Catholicism has a bit of an Achilles’ heel.

    I have been focussing on the image of the Theotokos in the apse of the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv. She is holding up her hands in a priestly gesture. If anyone is consecrating Ukraine at all, it is surely the Mother of God interceding for her suffering people.

    AG

    1. I always prefer to scan that line of the Our Father as:

      Thy will be done on earth / as it is in Heaven*

      precisely to evoke it not as fatalistic magic, but mission/call.

      * Rather than: Thy will be done / on earth as it is in Heaven.

  6. The prayer for peace Pope Francis recited at his weekly general audience March 16.
    The prayer was composed by Archbishop Domenico Battaglia of Naples.

    Forgive us for the war, Lord.
    Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on us sinners.
    Lord Jesus, born under the bombs of Kyiv, have mercy on us.
    Lord Jesus, dead in the arms of a mother in Kharkiv, have mercy on us.
    Lord Jesus, in the 20-year-olds sent to the frontline, have mercy on us.
    Lord Jesus, who continues to see hands armed with weapons
    under the shadow of the cross, forgive us, Lord.
    Forgive us if, not content with the nails with which we pierced your hand,
    we continue to drink from the blood of the dead torn apart by weapons.
    Forgive us if these hands that you had created to protect
    have been turned into instruments of death.
    Forgive us, Lord, if we continue to kill our brother,
    if we continue like Cain to take the stones from our field to kill Abel.
    Forgive us if we go out of our way to justify cruelty,
    if, in our pain, we legitimize the barbarity of our actions.
    Forgive us the war, Lord.
    Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, we implore you to stop the hand of Cain.
    Enlighten our conscience, let not our will be done,
    do not abandon us to our own doing.
    Stop us, Lord, stop us.
    And when you have stopped the hand of Cain,
    take care of him also. He is our brother.
    O Lord, stop the violence.
    Stop us, Lord.
    Amen.

      1. Sorry, Padraig!
        It’s internet shorthand for “I agree 100%”– a way of expressing my utmost approbation for what you shared. I do not normally use a lot of internet jargon, but “this” has an emphatic quality that appealed to me in this instance. In other words, this prayer captures in tone and intention, and with robust and arful use of Scripture and tradition, just the sort of penitence this moment calls for. It is deeply moving without sentimentalism, imaginative without giving license to fantasy, deeply theologically grounded.

      2. Thanks, Rita.
        My education continues – lifelong!
        I found this prayer quite moving – especially when reading it aloud at Mass.

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