Story of the Virgin Mary is more relevant today than ever
My lifelong fascination with 'Our Lady' has taught me that without mercy, there's very little decent point to our existence, writes Miriam O'Callaghan
I have an "Indevilable" memory of school. Hands joined, we are walking two by two, in sunshine, Reverence and the cherry-blossom confetti of the convent garden. Sister Kieran, small and white like an edelweiss, heads up our singing crocodile, waving her arms as if wrestling the real thing. Yes, she is home from Africa. But today, she is holding a stick, not a reptile from the Zambesi. "Sing, cailini, sing. Let your voices float high into the air. Up, up to our Dear Blessed Mother".
Behind her and to the side, there's a hint of two women by the sandstone wall. Heads back, throats exposed, they watch our invisible notes rise at the command of Sr Kieran's wand. In the laundry, the penitents smell of starch and rosaries. Here in the garden, among rows of cabbages, that never held a human child, they smell of less than nothing. After the Angelus, intoxicated by fervour and the smell of hops from Murphy's Brewery at Ladyswell, we leave the garden with its Immaculate and broken hearts. Soon, our earthly mothers will come to the school gates, bring us home for our dinner; lightheaded, our coronation anthems all sung out. We have had our first May Procession.
Forty-five years on, I am no longer a Catholic, but I still believe in the Mother of God. The four dogmas of Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception and Assumption are not the articles of my faith; the minutiae of Mariology don't keep me up at night. If, at the end of a chat or a call, a friend says: "I'll say a prayer for you", I don't care whether it involves sanctioned veneration or heretical adoration, or if they go straight for the devotional gold of the hyperdulia to which Mary is entitled. A good word from a good friend with a good woman, who is of both Heaven and Earth, is good enough for me. As it is, I suspect, for those from 16 to 96 who stride, stumble or creep into a church to light their candle, make their frightened or frightening prayers, before the Mother of God. I look out for the ones who come to say thank you. You can see the lightness, smell the relief, hear the long, involuntary, exhalation.