Once when I was in our Pauline Books & Media Center in Alexandria, Virginia, a mother came in with her two sons, around ages four and six. Before they left, I invited them to visit our Blessed Sacrament chapel, and when they came out, the mother looked very amused. She told me that her boys were fascinated by the statue of Mary. (See photo above.) “Look!” said the four-year-old, quite pleased with his discovery. “Baby Jesus is holding a burrito!” Before his mother could think of a response, the older boy chimed in, “No, that’s a map!”
Before you begin contemplating the deep spiritual significance of burritos, let me set the record straight. The photo shown is actually a statue of Mary as Queen of the Apostles, our special devotion to Mary as Daughters of Saint Paul. Mary is holding the Child Jesus, not to herself, but out to us, offering him to the world. Jesus is holding (did you guess) a scroll representing the Gospel—the good news of salvation. In the Pauline Family, we pray to Mary as Queen of Apostles because she was the first to bring Jesus to the world.
The burrito incident made me think of how we can use pictures and statues of Mary to teach children about her. There is a kind of religious “code” in the way Mary is depicted by different cultures and under various titles. Understanding the code can help in growing in knowledge of and devotion to the Blessed Mother.
Start with statues or pictures in your home. Look at them carefully with your children. What is Mary wearing? Is she sitting? Standing? Holding something? For example, if you have an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we can see Mary’s heart showing how much she loves us. In the statue of Our Lady of Grace, Mary’s arms are open, showing how many graces come to us through her prayers for us.
If you don’t know much about the image you’re looking at, do a little online research (using reliable sites). You can also explore depictions of Mary at your parish or nearby churches or shrines. If you’re ever in Washington, D.C., be sure to bring your family to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which has over 70 different images of Mary from all over the world.
Of course, although research is helpful, sometimes spontaneous explanations are essential. I remember one of my nephews as a preschooler looking at a picture of Murillo’s famous Madonna and Child in my parents’ house. He was shocked to see that the Baby Jesus had no clothes on! “Nana! What’s he doing?” he asked his grandmother. Without missing a beat, she replied, “Mary is changing Jesus’ diaper,” which was as satisfying to him as any profound theological explanation would have been.