Korea, Marian Devotion in

Marian Devotion in Korea

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (Committee for the Doctrine of the Faith) published a document on proper Marian devotion (Proper Marian Devotion, February 11, 2009). The document pursues a twofold goal: (1) It establishes the legitimacy of Marian devotion on doctrinal and historical criteria, and (2) presents "the proper Marian devotion by correcting" four erroneous understandings and practices which have "become the target of misunderstanding and criticism."

After a short history of Marian devotion in Korea (1811-1954), the document gives an overview of the four Marian dogmas which, according to Proper Marian Devotion, reflect "in themselves the history of Marian devotion in the Catholic Church" (17). Establishing thus, a doctrinal basis for Marian devotion, the document goes on to briefly comment on some of the foundational and classical forms of Marian devotion:

- Hail Mary (Ave Maria)
- Angelus
- Holy Rosary
- Litany of Our Lady
- Song of Mary (Magnificat)
- Hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Akathistos
- Holy Month of the Blessed Virgin Mary (May)
- Holy Month of the Holy Rosary (October)

The short description of each one of these devotional expressions refers to liturgical and scriptural elements, is steeped in recent magisterial documents (e.g. Marialis Cultus), and relates the devotion, where applicable, to the tradition of the Korean Catholic Church (e.g. when dealing with the May devotion as transmitted by Li Duo's The Holy Month of the Blessed Virgin Mary). The document gives ample place and attention to False Marian Devotions (45-72) before reasserting the various criteria of Proper Marian Devotion (73-78). Pointing out briefly some false Marian devotions from the Patristic to the Modern period, Chapter 4 deals at great length with false Marian devotions in Korea today. It begins with a refutation of Protestant accusations of Marian heresy and its stance on anti-Marianism, and then turns to false Marian devotions in the Korean Catholic Church. The document evaluates in detail four erroneous forms of Marian devotions:

- Marian devotion of Theresa Hwang of Sangju (based on purported private revelations)
- The false Marian devotion of sanctification of the so-called miracles or private revelations of Naju
- Marian devotion connected with Bayside (New York)
- Popular devotions based on Pseudo-Spirituality (scil. "Prayer meeting for the Healing of the Family Tree")

For each of these situations the document retraces the history of the event and the reaction of the Church highlighting the rationale for its negative evaluation. In the concluding chapter of the document, the Korean Bishops' Conference reaffirms that the "theological basis of Marian devotion can be found in the words of Scripture (cf. Lk 1. 30, 42-45; Gal 4.4)" (73). In a profile of Our Lady made of six special traits or characteristics the document shows how Marian devotion is situated at the confluence of Scripture and theology:

1) Mary is the "most blessed woman" which is the basis of her privileges (scil. dogmas) and the veneration owed her.

2) Mary is a "woman of faith" and thus "an example for all Christians" and Mother of all Christians. Marian devotion is based on her special dignity.

3) Mary is the "companion of Jesus, our Savior (Redeemer)", and a "particularly dedicated companion of the divine plan of Salvation."

4) The Blessed Virgin Mary "was a preeminent intercessor" (Cana) and "must be a preeminent intercessor who helps before God."

5) The Blessed Virgin "promotes adoration of God rather than interfering with it. If Marian devotion interferes with adoration of God, it must be a false devotion" (76).

6) Mary is an "exemplary figure of holiness for all Christians," and this presents still another reason for devotion to her.

This chapter concludes with an extensive reference to Lumen Gentium (n.67) on just Marian devotion. The Epilogue states that "nowadays, the practice of Marian devotion is more vigorous than any other Faith activity in the Church in Korea" (79). Nonetheless, the document raises some questions and makes some suggestions:

1) Catholics need to ask whether they "truly practice Marian devotion with pure hearts": which is meant to be an invitation to exercise discernment and prudence with regard to private revelations.

2) "The Church admonishes the faithful to draw the nourishment for their faith life from official liturgies with relation to Marian devotion (80).

3) A special mention is made of the just and meritorious activities and devotions of Legio Mariae. However, there is a need to "review the manual, the administration," so that the spirit can be brought forward.

4) Proper Marian devotion means to practice "true love of her." True devotion to her "means obeying God and loving Jesus as she does."

5) A final suggestion highlights the need to create "various rituals for Marian devotion" to be embraced by the Liturgy. The Church has the task to teach about "the legitimacy of Marian devotion" through "letters and educational materials." On the other hand, "an obligatory education in Mariology is needed for Seminarians, the future pastoral ministers" (81).