Contributions of the AMM to the New Evangelization - Part I
By: Bishop Alfonso Cabezas Aristizábal, CM
Introduction: One hundred years after the Association received worldwide recognition, we find ourselves gathered here and participating in the First General Assembly of the Miraculous Medal Association.
Our objective is to promote the spread and the growth of devotion to the Blessed Mother. We do this within the framework of the new evangelization and, indeed, we want to dedicate this time to the exploration of ways in which we can strengthen and further advance the process of the new evangelization.
This presentation is divided into two parts. The first part is dedicated to a study and a reflection on the journey of the Association from the time of its beginning … that is, the steps of the Association up until the present time.
The second part will highlight some future perspectives that will enable us to participate in the grand ministry of the new evangelization which the Holy Spirit is presently inspiring us to undertake.
In the first part I recall, in a general way, the charismatic events that gave rise to this religious movement. I will attempt to situate those events into a simple theological reflection on the ecclesial value of those events and the value of popular religion, the context into which we can place the apparitions.
[1.] The Blessed Mother, through the mediation of the Vincentian Family, presents a gift to the Church: the image of the Immaculate Virgin and the other scriptural symbols that are mystically and theologically enriched.
At the same time Mary expressed her desire to create an association of young men and women that would eventually evolve into the present day Vincentian Marian Youth Association … in a parallel process, the Miraculous Medal Association was born and later became more unified … and today we are gathered together as participants in this First General Assembly.
The formation of youth groups began in the 1930’s and these groups spread, first, throughout France and then to other countries where the Daughters of Charity and the Vincentian Missionaries were engaged in ministry.
In order to support and accompany the faithful in their devotion to the Immaculate Virgin of the Miraculous Medal there began to appear lay groups that were coordinated by the Vincentian Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity. As these groups continued to grow many bishops began to request the Holy See to erect and grant canonical recognition to these groups. In the more than one hundred years of her history, the Association has been referred to in distinct canonical documents of the Church. Finally, in 2010 and within the context of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the publication of the new Code of Canon Law (1983) and other pertinent regulatory documents, the Miraculous Medal Association, with its International Statutes, was approved.
It is within that historical and institutional framework that we are gathered together here today and we share a common ministry to promote devotion to our Lady of the Miraculous Medal as part of our service on behalf of the New Evangelization.
[2.] We are dealing with a private revelation (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #66 and #67) that is intended to help the faithful to live their faith in a more profound manner. It is essentially distinct from the only public revelation that demands our faith.
At that time the private revelation helped to promote a love toward the Marian prerogative of the Blessed Virgin, her Immaculate Conception. From the very beginning the Church has venerated and believed in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception and twenty-four years later this mystery was dogmatically defined by the Church in 1854. The words, O Mary conceived without sin, became part of the ecclesial consciousness.
At the same time this private revelation has promoted and has continued to enrich the Church’s awareness of the Marian mediation of graces and of the place of Mary as the co-redemptrix of humankind.
These revelations have flowed from our popular religiosity and at the same time are supported by that same popular religiosity. These revelations have given a new impetus to popular religiosity and have opened it to new forms. The spirituality and the life and the manner of thinking of Saint Catherine Laboure were that of a simple peasant woman who was grounded in a sound and practical religiosity. The result was that her experience found an immediate response and was viewed to be in harmony with the large masses of Catholics who were nourished by the Church’s teaching and by their belief in the love of Jesus Christ and of the Blessed Virgin … they are the fruit of the inculturated Gospel which we must not underestimate: to do so would be to fail to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit … they are a locus theologicus which demands our attention, especially at a time when we are looking to the new evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, #126). Pope Francis has pointed this out to us in a very clear and challenging manner. We will talk about that in the second part of this presentation on the new evangelization.
[3.] Historical Mission of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (Fr. José María Roman, Anales, 1973)
Beginning with that evening when a Daughter of Charity received the message from the Blessed Mother, a vigorous movement was set in motion, one that would have unforeseen and important repercussions: (a) in the history of France and throughout the world, (b) in the Church, (c) in the Vincentian Double Family and in the wider Vincentian Family.
[a] The social-political events revealed at the time of the apparitions very soon became a reality and the revolutionary changes that were unleashed in 1789 continued and spread throughout Europe during July of that same year and later became prevalent in the Paris Commune of 1871. The Catholic faithful and the hierarchy, in general devotees of the monarchy and the ancien régime, were frightened and disoriented. The presence of Mary in their life, through the Miraculous Medal, became a new, and yet a sound point of reference, that enabled people to move forward in a world that would be better, even though it would be quite different. The Medal made no reference to the ancien régime that was in collapse but did, however, remind people about the solid foundation of faith which was intended to support people as they moved out into the future which was opening before their very eyes. Indeed, people were able to journey along a new path of evangelization and a new missionary path.
[b] During this era the Church of the Miraculous Medal accompanied the new missionary wave that was inspired by the Spirit and that was encouraged and guided by the Camaldolese monk, Pope Gregory XVI (at the time of the election of Pope Francis, Gregory XVI had been the last Pope who was a member of a religious order).
The Christian understanding of the Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception continued to mature and twenty-four years later, in 1854, the Church celebrated the proclamation of this dogma by Pope Pius IX.
[c] As a result of the apparitions on the Rue du Bac, the Vincentian double family experienced a renewal in its zeal, spirituality and vocations … a renewal that was rooted in its ministry on behalf of the family and young women. The Miraculous Medal Association, even before its official recognition in 1909, was encouraging and animating that renewal. Father Etienne had no hesitation in giving a divine interpretation to that phenomenon which he and Father Aladel supported from the beginning and which later, as superior general, he provided with a direction and a dynamic spirit.
[4.] The juridical characteristic of the Association is very unique. We are dealing with an Association of the lay faithful that admits priests, men and women religious and members of the Apostolic Life. The Association is not under the jurisdiction of the Council of the Laity but rather under the Congregation of Religious and Apostolic Life.
The Association is presided over by the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, even though for its diocesan apostolic ministry it must coordinate such ministry with the Pontifical Institute for Lay Associations.
It was a long process before the laity were given a place in the Code of Canon Law. In the Code of 1917 the reality of the associations of the lay faithful was not recognized. Therefore, our Association was placed under the direction of a religious community (the Congregation of the Mission), in the person of the superior general. We had to wait until the time of the Second Vatican Council for an adequate expression of this reality in the ecclesiology of the People of God. This concept highlights the leadership of the laity and as a result of that we have gathered here together in this First General Assembly.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM