Monday, July 9, 2012

Virgin of the Milk

You learn something new every day, the old adage goes. Unfortunately, most of the time we are not aware of having learned something new. But once in while, you learn something so new, it is like being a child again, full of awe and wonder at the world. Here is the new thing I learned yesterday, from Full of Grace by Judith Dupre:

The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen, ca. 1440, Robert Campin

"Devotion to the Virgo lactans ("lactating Virgin") appears in Western Europe in thirteenth-century devotional texts such as the Stimulus Amoris, where Mary's breast milk holds the same saving qualities as Christ's blood: 'Let me be worthy to drink the milk from her breast. Then I will mix the mother's milk with the son's blood and make for myself the sweetest of drinks.' In this way, the breastfeeding Virgin was traditionally associated with the Queen of Heaven, intercessor for the faithful, making Campin's painting all the more touching. The person who commissioned this painting would see the Queen of Heaven, not glorified among the angels and saints, but quietly nursing the Savior in a household much like his or her own."

There is an actual devotion to Mary's breastfeeding?!  I have been journaling on the topic of breastfeeding recently but had not decided when to start posting about it here. Clearly this painting and information was my sign that the time is now! Some readers might recall that what prompted me to pray to Mary for the first time in my life last fall was a night of insomnia, when I was full of anxiety about the plight of women, especially as relates to breastfeeding in society. I nursed my only child for a full 4 years before she began to ween. For La Leche League members, this type of extended breastfeeding is not unusual and is considered to be quite normal. But for most of American society, seeing a woman nursing her child is not something people are generally used to or comfortable with, even when the child is a newborn. I was met with a lot of tension and resistance in my own family of origin for my nursing practices. That night when I prayed to Mary, continuing strain over my mothering style was still an issue, and I was feeling depressed about the situation, although breastfeeding was no longer the problem of the day. When I prayed to Mary, I fell immediately asleep.

I don't know what prompted me to pray to her in the first place, but the next day she invited me to meet her at the Catholic Church in my town, where I discovered her Rosary garden, and she began that day to be my spiritual mother. I think it is going too far to say that her milk literally has the same saving qualities as Christ's blood, but I think that comment above is meant in a more poetic way. Christians throughout the ages have had mystical experiences with Mary's milk, and the contemplation of its spiritual implications could be truly edifying. I am going to continue to research this devotion to Our Lady of the Milk (Nuestra Senora de la Leche) . I'll leave you for now with this prayer:

Lovely Lady of La Leche, most loving mother of the Child Jesus, and my mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only, His spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Savior. Intercede with him now, my loving Mother, that, in accordance with His will, I may become the mother of other children of our heavenly Father. This I ask, O Lady of La Leche, in the Name of your Divine Son, My Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

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