Devotion to Her has long been a Controversial Affair

Behind the cult of Mary.

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This thoroughly modernized Mary hasn't gone down well with all Catholics, and many want her restored to her full regal glory. A conservative lay group, Vox Populi Mariae Mediatric, has collected nearly 7 million signatures on a petition asking that Catholic dogma proclaim Mary as "Mediatrix of All Graces," or the sole dispenser of God's graces, as well as Christ's co-redeemer. The late Pope John Paul ii was inclined toward granting the Virgin those titles, Boss says, but was dissuaded by his chief aide, the German cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, who argued that only Vatican councils—and not popes—should proclaim dogma. Now, of course, Ratzinger is Pope Benedict xvi.

Meanwhile, Spretnak argues that Marian devotion shouldn't be the province of conservatives only. She calls on her fellow liberal Catholics to also seek a return to traditional Mariology. "Vatican ii lopped off too much of [Mary's] symbolic, sacramental, mystical, and cosmological aspects, [and] it would be well to restore them." Besides, Spretnak says, many millions of Catholics have simply ignored the new doctrine. Indeed, the world's main shrines to the Virgin continue to attract millions of her faithful.

Thirty years ago, Warner insisted Mary was an "exhausted" icon and predicted that "the Virgin will recede into legend." Warner may ultimately be proved right. But Mary's legions of ardent worshipers will ensure that their queen won't go quietly.