The Blessed Virgin Mary is our merciful and loving Mother who heeds the call of all who invoke her in prayer in the hope of healing and reconciliation. Mary’s virginal motherhood seeks to restore us to integrity and wholeness in Christ.
One of the most beautiful prayers rising like incense in the heart of the Church is the invocation made public by Pope Francis to Mary, Undoer of Knots. It is a prayer to the Mother of God, whose image is that of the Immaculate Conception, standing upon the crescent moon and attended by angels on either side who feed through her patient fingers the ribbon of our lives, with all their difficulties and trials, as Mary mercifully unties each knot. These knots represent the many trials, sufferings, sins and difficulties that hinder and stifle the life of grace and true peace in our souls.
Mary Immaculate is the one to whom all power has been given by Christ our Lord, to act as our advocate and dispenser of the graces of God. She is the one in whom Our Lord, in His last will and testament given from the Cross, tells suffering humanity to hope, with the words “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19:27). United to His Mother, Christ has overcome the world, Satan, and sin. By that one perpetual Sacrifice, the united hearts of Jesus and Mary continue to overcome these snares and untie the knots of our lives. It is only through Mary’s omnipotent intercession with Christ her Son that these knots are untied. It is she, the Coredemptrix, who offers herself in union with the offering of Christ her Son, as priest and victim, to the Eternal Father, in expiation for the sins of many who believe and receive Christ in love.
Mary was expressly created by God as His masterpiece, the Immaculate Conception, the form par excellence for all creation. St. Paul says of Christ that “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:15-16). In time, Christ was born of Mary; thus, it is through this Woman, the Mother of the “first-born of all creation” that the whole of creation is reborn.
This same Woman is the form par excellence for all creation, the Immaculate Conception, preserved free from the original sin of Adam by the preservative grace won on Calvary by her Redeemer Son. But the Immaculate Conception not only means that Mary never offended God, or transgressed His commands; it also, and most preeminently, means that Mary used all the faculties of her soul with which God endowed her from the very first moment of her creation to praise, laud and glorify the most Holy Trinity. The “fiat” she expressed at the Annunciation—“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38)—is the quintessential expression of her unparalleled exaltation of the Lord. The Magnificat was a symphony whose sweet melody poured forth not only at the Visitation but at every moment of her life, even from conception; the Lord indeed had “done great things” for Mary by preserving her from original sin.
The image of Mary, Undoer of Knots, was painted by an unknown artist. It has been venerated since the 1700s in the Church of St. Peter in Perlack, Germany. The image was originally inspired by a meditation of St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who was martyred in 202 A.D. St. Irenaeus made a comparison between Eve and Mary: “Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by her obedience, undid it.” This saying was based on the parallel made by St. Paul of Adam with Christ: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Mary is the Woman prefigured in the Book of Genesis who, united to the New Adam, undoes the sin of the first Adam and first Eve. She, the Victrix, stands at the Foot of the Cross, sharing in the suffering and death of Christ, and therefore sharing in His victory over sin and death. She is the Mother of holy hope and of love everlasting.
At various times and places, certain apparitions, images or prayers to Our Lady make themselves seen, felt and heard. By means of these images and prayers, the Holy Spirit calls us back to His Spouse. She, for her part, as the first ambassador of Christ—who carried Him in her womb and continues to carry Him in her Immaculate Heart—urges us to come to the throne of grace, in order that she may present our needs to her Son. Our Mother draws us to herself, through this pious devotion, imploring that we be reconciled with God. For we, who have been born of the Precious Blood of Christ’s Sacrifice and Mary’s intercession in holy Baptism, are restored by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and feed on His sacred Flesh, are a new creation; and our life is a risen life, hidden in Christ, through Mary.
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:18-20). It is Mary, Our Mother, who continues to make this appeal to us personally, as only a Mother can do, exhorting us through the words of St. Paul: “be reconciled to God.” This is the flame of love which burns incessantly in the Heart of Mary, for she loves God as no mortal tongue can tell and does everything in her power so as to bring each of her children to cooperate with her for their salvation and that of their brethren.
It is through prayer that Mary brings us Christ’s peace, healing and reconciliation, but not as one distant from our troubles and sufferings. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “Christ is not a healer in the manner of the world. In order to heal us, he does not remain outside the suffering that is experienced; he eases it by coming to dwell within the one stricken by illness, to bear it and live it with him. Christ’s presence comes to break the isolation which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone; as a suffering member of Christ, he is conformed to Christ in his self-offering to the Father, and he participates, in him, in the coming to birth of the new creation.”1 Christ’s compassion has granted us a Mother who willingly takes what we have, even our sufferings and difficulties, even our very selves and asks that we consecrate ourselves to her for our salvation. According to St. Peter Damian, the Blessed Virgin is able to raise even those who are in despair to confidence. He addresses her in these words, “All power is given to thee in heaven and on earth, and nothing is impossible to thee who canst raise those who are in despair to the hope of salvation.” Saint Peter Damian calls Mary the golden altar of mercy at which sinners obtain pardon; he writes “when the Mother goes to seek a favor for us from Jesus Christ, her Son esteems her prayers so greatly, and is so desirous to satisfy her, that when she prays it seems as if she rather commanded than prayed, and was rather a queen than a handmaid.”2
Peering at the image of Mary, Undoer of Knots, one is attracted to the hope of giving over one’s problems and difficulties to one who can do something on our behalf. We can also understand that we are called to be like Mary, ambassadors to Christ Our Lord, but also ambassadors to Our Queen and Mother, interceding and giving hope to others, even as Mary does at the Visitation going in haste to help her cousin Elizabeth. At Cana, Mary perceives the need for more wine at the marriage feast and tells her Son, “They have no wine,” moving Our Lord’s heart to provide a miracle of wine. At Calvary, “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your Mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn 19:26-27). Mary’s love for Jesus and for all who believe in Him causes Him to cry “I Thirst” (Jn 19:28) upon the Cross, expressing Christ’s desire to perpetuate His sacrifice of love for all time and to beget children for Mary, in whom “all generations will call me blessed, the almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.” Even at the Foot of the Cross the melody of the “Magnificat” echoes eloquently in the sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary with love and gratitude. At the Cenacle, Mary draws the Holy Spirit down upon the Apostles, filling them with the courage and hope to witness for Christ, spreading the good news, the gospel of life, even to the shedding of their blood.
We too can unite ourselves with Mary, by praying to her for our needs as well as for those of others and spreading devotion to her. Mary, Undoer of Knots is the same Mother of God who similarly appeared at Guadalupe, upheld by an angel, standing upon the crescent moon. At Guadalupe, Mary revealed God’s love to men when she said to Juan Diego and to all people, “I want very much that they build my sacred little house here, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him upon making Him manifest, I will give Him to all people in all my personal love, Him that is my help, Him that is my salvation. Because truly I am your compassionate Mother, yours and that of all the people that live together in this land, and also of all the other various lineages of men, those who love me, those who cry to me, those who seek me, those who trust me” (Message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1531).3
As the Virgin’s love of God and of each individual person reaches out to everyone, in the same way our love of God must reach others. Mary gives us hope, and in her Assumption into Heaven and in the apparitions, we have a sure hope that she is our model in the pilgrimage of faith and our solid hope of faith. As Pope Benedict XVI writes, “Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well. It is an active hope, in which we struggle to prevent things moving towards the ‘perverse end.’ It is an active hope also in the sense that we keep the world open to God. Only in this way does it continue to be a truly human hope.”4 In this sense prayer truly becomes hope in action, God assisting us in carrying Christ to others, even as He assisted Mary at the Visitation in carrying Him in Her womb, at the Cross in offering Him to the Father, and in the Cenacle in interceding on behalf of the Church.
It is no wonder that the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis, has such confidence in this devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots. In these times of trial, when the Church seems shaken from within and without, with various trials and tribulations, one can hear the words of Our Lord after He proclaimed that He was the Bread of Life: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56). The Holy Eucharist remains in the Church as a lasting memorial of Christ’s presence among us. Just like the disciples who deserted Jesus (cf. Jn 6:66), we can be tempted to abandon our faith in Him who is Truth. What, then, must we do? The response of St. Peter lights the way: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69). The source of eternal life is Jesus Christ, and Mary is the star which shows the way to her Son. In times of doubt, despair, trial and suffering, then, as we ask “to whom we shall go?” let us go to Christ and hear His words: “Behold, your Mother!”
At Fatima, Portugal, when Our Lady appeared in 1917 to ask the prayer of the Rosary, Eucharistic reparation and consecration to her Immaculate Heart, Mary sought the attention of God’s children in order that they would “Behold their Mother” and heed her requests. A beautiful model of one who beheld her Mother was Jacinta Marto, the youngest seer at Fatima, who in her hour of suffering, made her final offering to Jesus and Mary for the salvation of souls. Just before leaving this world, Jacinta told her cousin Lucia that she would go to heaven and said: “You must stay to tell people that God wants to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When you have to say this don’t hide, but tell everybody that God gives us His grace through the Immaculate Heart and that people must ask it through her and that the Sacred Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary by His side. They must ask peace through the Immaculate Heart because God has given it to her. I wish I could put into everybody the fire that I have in my heart which makes me love the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary so much!”5
This is the same fire of love burning in every heart that loves Jesus and desires to see Him and His Mother loved side by side, for it is their desire that we should do so. Pope Francis recently requested to have the statue of Our Lady of Fatima brought to St. Peter’s Basilica. On October 13, 2013, Pope Francis entrusted the world to Our Lady of Fatima, who is the same Mary, Undoer of Knots with this beautiful prayer in which we learn to give Mary all our knots, all that is in our hearts, to heal and save us.
Holy Mary, Virgin of Fatima, with renewed gratitude for your motherly presence, we unite our voice to that of all generations that call you blessed.
We celebrate with you the mighty works of God, who never tires of looking down with mercy on mankind, afflicted by evil and wounded by sin, to heal it and save it.
Accept with the benevolence of a Mother the act of entrustment we make today with confidence, before this image of you which is so dear to us.
We are certain that each of us is precious in your sight and that nothing of all that dwells in our hearts is unknown to you.
We are touched by your sweet glance and welcome the comforting caress of your smile.
Keep our lives in your arms: bless and strengthen every desire for goodness; revitalize and nourish our faith; sustain and enlighten our hope; awaken and animate our charity; guide all of us along the path of holiness.
Teach us your own preferential love for the little and the poor, for the marginalized and the suffering, for sinners and the downhearted: gather everyone under your protection and deliver us all to your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus. Amen.
1 Benedict XVI, Homily at the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Rosaire, September 15, 2008.
2 St. Alphonsus De Liguori, The Glories of Mary, 180.
3 Carl Anderson, Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love, (New York: Doubleday Press, 2009), 9, based on The Oldest Copy of the Nican Mopohua, 3-4, observations on the Spanish and Nahuatl textual similarities first made by Fr. Mario Rojas Sanchez.
4 Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 34.
5 John de Marchi, Fatima: From the Beginning, 2nd ed., p. 145.