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Mother of God
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The Images of Mary Quiz

By Bill Dodds
Find out how the Church has honored the Mother of God in prayers and art.

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Can you ever have too many pictures of your mother? The Church thinks not, when it comes to Mary. Take this quiz, and discover some of the myriad ways the Church has honored Mary in art, and in prayers, from the earliest times.

What’s your image of the Blessed Mother? And how does it compare with the ways some artists depict her—and some of the Church’s prayers describe her? Begin with No. 1, and then just follow the directions.

1. The first image of Mary that Scripture offers is in the book of:

a) Genesis. (Head for 9.)

b) Matthew. (Move to 30.)

2. Correct. The litany uses material from writers up through the sixth century. Now go to your final question, 31.

3. That’s her principal title in the Greek Church, and it dates back to the third century. In Latin it’s “Dei Genetrix.” The modern equivalent in English is “Mother of God.” Now go to 40.

4. Speaking of Mary’s “sorrows,” what seven events are on that official list?

a) The prophecy of Simeon. The flight into Egypt. The three days that young Jesus was lost. Watching Jesus carry the cross. The crucifixion. And the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross. (Head for 26.)

b) There is no official list. (Go to 36.)

5. Yes, the Exodus took that long, but no. Return to 11.

6. No. Return to 17.

7. Not sure how you could know the name of an angel in a fourth-century fresco? Sorry. Return to 18.

8. You’re right. Traditionally, a litany was prayed—often sung—during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and other liturgical celebrations (other than the Mass). The word itself is from the Greek for “prayer.” There are litanies to the Holy Name, the Sacred Heart, and the saints, among others. Now move to 23.

9. Good for you! Biblical scholars say it’s a prophecy in Genesis 3:15. The Lord, speaking to the serpent, says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” Now go to 33.

10. You thought this one through. What popular image shows Mary with an angel? The Annunciation. And who appeared to Mary during the Annunciation? Gabriel. (How do we know his name? Luke tells us in chapter 1, verse 26.) Now head for 34.

11. A less common—but very dramatic—image of Mary with Joseph and young Jesus is the flight into Egypt. How long would a trip like that have taken?

a) Forty years. (Go to 5.)

b) Ten days. (Move to 16.)

12. That was a tough one. Antipolo is in the Philippines. Our Lady of Antipolo or Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage is a popular devotion there. Return to 23.

13. Of course! The “Visitation” (Luke 1:39-56). Now go to 25.

14. No. Return to 33.

15. Yes. Also known as the Litany of Loreto, this prayer began to spread to other places at the end of the 16th century. Now head for 38.

16. That’s what some historians say. In 10 days, the Holy Family could have gone from Bethlehem to the farthest outposts of Egypt (those closest to Palestine). They also say there were other Jewish colonists in that country during that era, and one region boasted a temple that was nearly as splendid as the one in Jerusalem. Now head for 37.

17. Mary is seen as the Immaculate Conception on the front of the medal. On the back are two hearts. One—with a crown of thorns and flames, and topped by a small cross—represents Jesus. The other is a symbol of Mary. What does hers look like?

a) It has the number 7 on it. (Head for 6.)

b) It has a sword through it. (Move to 20.)

18. One of the earliest images of Mary in art can be found in the catacomb of St. Priscilla in Rome. There, a fourth-century fresco depicts Our Lady with an angel named:

a) Raphael. (Go to 7.)

b) Gabriel. (Move to 10.)

19. That’s a Mediterranean dish made with chickpeas. Return to 37.

20. Right. It refers to the prophecy by Simeon to Mary (Luke 2:34-35): “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you, yourself, a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” The heart also has flames on top of it, symbolizing Mary’s burning love for all humanity. Now go to 4.

21. Let’s try a few more questions on this famous image. Where did we get it?

a) From Mary. (Go to 24.)

b) From St. Catherine Laboure. (Head for 35.)

22. Sorry. Scholasticism was the name given to the philosophy that flourished in the Middle Ages when St. Thomas Aquinas, and others, used the writings of the Fathers of the Church as a foundation. Return to 38.

23. The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary describes the Blessed Mother in some four dozen ways. Tradition says that this practice began at an Italian Marian shrine known as:

a) Antipolo. (Go to 12.)

b) Loreto. (Move to 15.)

24. Both answers are correct. We received it from St. Catherine, who received it from Mary. St. Catherine was a 19th-century French nun who had visions of Our Lady. Mary instructed her to have a medal struck and told her what it was to look like. Now move to 17.

25. Medieval and Renaissance artists also liked depicting Mary with the Christ Child and with her mother, Ann. How do we know the grandmother’s name?

a) It’s in Luke’s Gospel (Head for 29.)

b) It’s in a second-century book. (Go to 41.)

26. There are only six items on that list. Return to 4.

27. Correct. Mary is standing on a globe and crushing the head of a serpent (that is, Satan). Now head for 21.

28. Luke wasn’t one of the “Twelve.” Return to 31.

29. No, it isn’t. Return to 25.

30. Yes, in the New Testament. Matthew 1:18 reads: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” Return to 1.

31. But what did Mary really look like?

a) Like the image painted by the apostle Luke. (Head for 28.)

b) We don’t know. (Go to 39.)

32. Sorry. That’s another name for the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or for a shorter version of the Liturgy of the Hours. Return to 40.

33. An image of Mary that is very common in our own time shows the Blessed Mother standing on a snake. Which image is it?

a) Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Move to 14.)

b) The Miraculous Medal. (Go to 27.)

34. The Annunciation was one of the most popular images for artists throughout the Middle Ages. Another favorite depicted Mary saying hello to someone. To whom?

a) Elizabeth. (Move to 13.)

b) Joseph. (Head for 42.)

35. Both answers are correct. We received it from St. Catherine, who received it from Mary. St. Catherine was a 19th-century French nun who had visions of Our Lady. Mary instructed her to have a medal struck and told her what it was to look like. Now move to 17.

36. Yes. But the six items in answer b, plus Jesus being laid in the tomb, make up the list that the Servite Order has promoted and made popular. Now move to 18.

37. It isn’t just artwork but titles that shape our images of Mary. For example, Mary is called the “bearer of God.” In Greek, that is:

a) “Theotokos.” (Move to 3.)

b) “Hummus.” (Head for 19.)

38. Among the images the litany uses to describe Mary are: “mirror of justice,” “seat of wisdom,” “cause of our joy,” and “spiritual vessel.” In the past, some critics have argued that the descriptions are too extravagant. Advocates answered that they’re based on the writings of the theologians of the early centuries. That group of theologians is known as:

a) The Fathers of the Church. (Move to 2.)

b) The scholastics. (Head for 22.)

39. Sad, but true. She’s featured in some Byzantine works said to have been painted by Luke, but art historians say these date from the sixth century. They say the very first image of Mary that we know of comes from St. Priscilla’s catacomb in Rome—the one that had the Annunciation. From the second or third century, it shows the new mother about to nurse the Infant Jesus. Now move to 43.

40. “Mother of God” is one of the first items on a “prayer list” of descriptions of Mary. After each, the response is “pray for us.” What’s a list like that called?

a) A litany. (Head for 8.)

b) The Little Hours. (Go to 32.)

41. One called the “Protoevangelium of James.” It’s an “apocryphal Gospel”—a work not included in the New Testament—dating back to the end of the second century. It says the parents of Mary were Joachim and Anna (or Ann or Anne). Now move to 11.

42. No. Return to 34.

43. The case can be made that it’s a good thing we don’t have a painting or fresco that shows us exactly what Mary looked like. That makes it easier for each of us to picture her as our mother, too. (Which, of course, she is.)

Historians say that from the beginning of the second century—not long after the death of the apostle John—veneration of Mary was flourishing, so let’s end with a prayer from second-century Egypt. It’s one that’s still being said in our own day. In Latin, it’s known as the “Sub Tuum.” In English, it reads:

“We fly to your patronage, O Holy Mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O ever-glorious and blessed Virgin.”


Copyright © 2000 Bill Dodds

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