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.