Missing Mary: The ReEmergence of the Queen of Heaven in the Modern Church

What ever happened to the Virgin Mary in the modern Catholic Church?
For the past forty years her presence has been radically minimized. In a groundbreaking work, Charlene Spretnak cuts across the battle lines delineated by the left and the right within the Church to champion the recovery of the full spiritual presence of Mary.

Spretnak, a progressive Catholic, explores what is lost when the influences of modernity steer an entire religion toward a text-based, literal historicism — turning away from their traditional sacramental approach to spirituality (aesthetic, symbolic, and mystical). One result was a reductionist reading of a complex spiritual symbol as a mere "sign," or cipher, in a text. At the great modernizing conference of the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican II (1962-65), the winning side in a tense debate and a close vote about the Virgin Mary successfully argued that modern methods of biblical exegesis require that she henceforth be considered nothing more than a "sign" in Scripture that stands for the Church.

In the modernized Catholic Church, Mary was never again to be considered the Queen of Heaven, merely a Nazarene housewife who was the first Christian. Following Vatican II (whose effects in countless other areas were salutary), Marian statues and devotional practices were "disappeared" from parish churches everywhere. Most "progressive" theologians now strongly deemphasize, or dismiss altogether, the mystical, symbolic, and cosmological dimensions of Mary, allowing solely a historical, literal focus.

Spretnak sheds new light on the dynamics of modernity that led to the dethroning of the Queen of Heaven at Vatican II. Moreover, she both interprets and advances the case for the current resurgence of Marian spirituality, which she calls "the Quiet Rebellion." She offers fresh reflections on the meaning of Mary, situating the Marian renewal in the larger context of contemporary efforts to correct the barrenness and sterility of modernity. Spretnak also notes that much of the cosmological symbolism traditionally associated with Mary as the Queen of Heaven and the maternal matrix is simpatico with recent discoveries in scientific cosmology about the profoundly relational nature of the Creation.

Moreover, Spretnak asserts that a deep loss ensues for women in particular when Mary's female embodiment of grace and mystical presence is denied and replaced with a strictly text-bound version of her as a Nazarene housewife. Complete with a striking insert of contemporary Marian art, Missing Mary is a deeply insightful reflection on religion and modernity.


Excerpts from Reviews

National Catholic Reporter featured Missing Mary as its cover story on 30 April 2004: an interview with Charlene Spretnak and a favorable review by Andrew Greely were presented in tandem.

Catholic New Times (Toronto) declared in its 11 April 2004 issue, "In her well-researched original work, Spretnak has composed one of the most profound theological reflections on the post-Vatican II church. With clear and lyrical prose, she names the challenges and points us well beyond."

In The Catholic Herald (U.K. and Ireland; 14 May 2004): "I found myself sympathising with her stance.... What Spretnak wants back is the mystery, the mysticism, even the magic of Mary."

In The Tablet (U.K.; 29 May 2004): "Spretnak has made the point that Marian devotion has been an unwarranted casuality of the Vatican Council."

In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (March 27, 2004): Missing Mary "makes the case" that the meaning and significance of Mary has been downplayed by the Catholic Church over the past forty years — but that Mary's full spriitual presence is alive and well in ethnic parishes.

In Publishers Weekly (November 23, 2003): "The book is a nice blend of theological argument and reportage of popular piety, outlining a fissure within the Catholic Church between those who miss the old Mary and those who support her more limited status.... Spretnak's writing is engaging ...."


Praise for Missing Mary

"Missing Mary is a classic! Charlene Spretnak offers authentic insight into the mystery that is Mary. The book is elegant, playful, and real. It's history and theology. It's mythic, scientific, and above all, it's cosmological. Her critique of the Marian decisions at Vatican II is wonderful, and her vision is urgently needed now. She has set a great course into the future."

— Fr. Thomas Berry, author of The Great Work

"For anyone who has ever loved Our Lady, or desires to, Charlene Spretnak offers a clear vision of the Blessed Mother's true and enormous shape — one that some, over time, have tried to reduce to dust. But the Mother of the Immaculate Heart is a wild one. She refuses to be made small. As in the oldest 'call and response' songs, Spretnak has called on the Blessed Mother's magnitude. And the Holy One has responded with her immaculate love; this is evident on every page. This book and its author are to be treasured as truly enacting the deepest spirit of ‘Viva la Virgen! "

— Clarissa Pinkola Estιs, Ph.D., author of Women Who Run with the Wolves and Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother's Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul

"If you have prayed for a closer walk with Mary, then this book is an answer to your prayer. Charlene Spretnak serves not just Mary, but all of us, in returning her to her proper place in the cosmos and in our hearts."

— Marianne Williamson, author of Everyday Grace

"Passionate and courageous, Missing Mary is a rousing call to recover and reclaim the mystical dimensions of the cosmic 'Queen of Heaven.' Spretnak rescues Mary from social conservatives and actually makes it 'safe' for progressives to reclaim the mysteries of Marian spirituality. In a narrative filled with suspense and surprises, Spretnak traces the fate of Mary in the Catholic Church in recent decades and charts a path for revitalizing her spiritual presence in the world today. For all those who have hungered for the power of the Blessed Mother in their lives, Spretnak's book is a banquet."

— Professor Sarah McFarland Taylor, Department of Religion, Northwestern University

"Missing Mary is a joy to read — luscious language, brilliant ideas, and a many-layered wisdom that continually astonishes. Charlene Spretnak has given birth to a work that, if fully apprehended, will change the course of history. Certainly the debate between science and spirituality is now permanently changed. Spretnak offers direct access to a deep spirituality that has the power to tear open modernity's materialist ideology, allow a fountain of grace to flow into the human heart, and save us from plummeting finally into chaos. The impact on a reader of this daring and beautiful book is profound."

— Brian Swimme, Ph.D., author of The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos

"Charlene Spretnak skillfully sheds light on the remarkable reawakening of devotion to the feminine in a modern context. Her careful historical analysis and her clear insights into the cosmological implications of Mary make this book fascinating and indispensable reading. With this pathbreaking work the bridges can now be made to the enormous energy of devotion to the feminine in many parts of the world that reflect our new historical moment."

— Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker, Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University

"In Missing Mary, Charlene Spretnak has returned Mary to our midst where she belongs. Spretnak explores the numerous facets of Marian devotion and doctrine with gusto, including Mary's mystical presence. Spretnak's incisive arguments, her careful research into the shifting perception of Mary since Vatican II, and her clear-headed thinking about the variety of responses to this enigmatic figure are indeed welcome. A profound grassroots devotion to Mary has persisted throughout the centuries. This book brings the wisdom of that ancient belief in the 'Mother Who Contains the Uncontainable' into our world today."

— China Galland, M.A., Professor-in-Residence, C.A.R.E., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA



Selected Works

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