Mary in the Life and Thought of St. Catherine of Siena

May 7, 2012

In her Dialogues, the Sienese Dominican St. Catherine of Siena, is famous for her deep mystical relation with Jesus Christ.  Much of her spirituality revolves around that intimate rapport that a life of prayer can bring.  Her great metaphor–the Bridge of Christ–re-casts the body of Christ as a great medieval bridge, beginning at his feet, resting in his heart, and hearing the truth from his very mouth.  And it is through Christ–the way, the truth, and the life–that one may enter into the eternal life of love that is the Holy Trinity. But, what about the role of Mary in St. Catherine’s spiritual writings and teachings?  Certainly, as a Dominican she would have absorbed the great piety the Order had for the Mother of God.  But how does this manifest in her writings?  In his article, “Mary in the Life and Thought of St. Catherine of Siena“, Fr. Vincent Wiseman, OP, the former Student Master of the Province of St. Joseph and currently a missionary in East Africa, attempts to answer that very question.  Fr. Wiseman begins his treatment in this way:

“In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and of gentle Mary.”  With these words, Catherine begins her book, Il Dialogo, as well as all but a few of her three hundred eighty-two letters, indicating the close link that Catherine makes between gentle Mary and her crucified Son. Catherine’s birth on March 25 in 1347, a year in which the customary date of the Annunciation coincided with Palm Sunday, might seem to have anticipated the close relationship Catherine would draw between Mary and the Redemption. For Catherine, Mary is not a passive or peripheral figure to the story of salvation but one who is vitally involved in its decisive moments. As has been seen, Catherine, unlike a number of medieval authors, emphasizes the Incarnation as the beginning of the redemption. Thus, she writes:

This Word was engrafted in her flesh, this blessed and sweet field of Mary, as the seed that is cast on the earth. Through the warmth of the sun, it germinates and draws out the flower and the fruit and the shell remains on the earth. So, truly, [it was] through the warmth and the fire of divine charity which God had for the human race, casting the seed of His Word in the field of Mary. O blessed and sweet Mary, you have given us the flower of the sweet Jesus! And when did this blessed flower produce the fruit? When He was grafted on the wood of the most holy cross. Then we received perfect life. [Letter 144]

For St. Catherine, Mary plays no mere passive role in the incarnation of her son.  As the Word was given to Mary, so Mary gives the Word to the world in bearing her Son.  Mary is united to Christ in his work of salvation, and so is united to us as that same salvation is worked in us. To read the rest of Fr. Wiseman’s article, click here: “Mary in the Life and Thought of Catherine of Siena

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