This week, we draw our gaze to the Blessed Mother, illustrating the beauty of her intercession, as she cares for each of us as her own, granting us consolation, relief, love and protection.
By: John Knutsen, Staff Spotlight
They say that the three most stressful life events are a death in the family, having a baby and moving. Within a short period, my wife and I took on two of these. Our beautiful daughter was born, and a year later we moved from one coast to the other. The stresses of a new job and establishing ourselves far from family and friends, paired with the daily exhaustion that comes with raising a small child, quickly mounted to a point where we both wondered how our marriage would survive. It was, for me, the darkest time we’d yet faced as man and wife.
In the midst of this difficult period, we discovered a Bavarian devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots (Maria Knötenloserin), whose feast is on September 28. We started to pray the novena and experienced immediate and profound healing. Soon afterward, we placed an image of Mary under this title in our home, and continue to frequently turn to her for help. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a powerful intercessor; she never fails us.
The history of this devotion is beautiful. In 1612, a 26-year-old Bavarian man named Wolfgang Langenmantel traveled to the University of Ingolstadt four times over the course of a month, hoping to save his failing marriage through the counsel and prayers of a Jesuit priest, Fr. Jakob Rem. On the last visit, Langenmantel brought with him the ribbon blessed on the day of his wedding, when according to Bavarian custom it had been loosely wound around the wrists of the couple as a symbol of the marriage bond. Fr. Rem held the knotted and discolored ribbon up to an image of Our Lady and said, “In this religious act, I raise the bonds of matrimony, to untie all knots and smooth them.” He then began to untie the knots one by one. When he finished, the ribbon had returned to its original brilliant white. Langenmantel and his wife Sophia were reconciled, their marriage saved through the intercession of Our Lady.
Fast forward to 1700, when Langenmantel’s grandson, Fr. Hieronymus Ambrosius Langenmantel, pastor of St. Peter am Perlach parish in Augsburg, dedicated a family altar to Our Lady of Good Counsel and commissioned a painting to commemorate Mary’s intercession to save the marriage of his grandparents almost a century earlier. The artist, Johann Schmidtner, portrayed Mary dressed as Our Lady of Good Counsel, surrounded by angels and untying the knots in the Langenmantel wedding ribbon. At the bottom of the painting, Wolfgang Langenmantel was depicted traveling in haste to visit Fr. Rem, accompanied by Saint Raphael. (This is a reference to the Book of Tobit and its tale of marital healing.) Schmidtner’s painting is still being venerated in the church of St. Peter am Perlach.
Although a relatively recent devotion, the message reaches back to the beginning of the Church. Mary’s intercessory role is seen clearly in John’s account of the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), but in the second century Saint Irenaeus deepened our understanding of it by using the image of a knot: “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith” (Against Heresies, III, 22, 4). Mary, the New Eve, continues to untie the many knots of our fallen human nature and restore us to God.
Pope Francis, a man deeply devoted to Our Lady, first saw the Augsburg painting in 1986 while studying theology in Germany, and he was captivated by it. He brought a postcard back to Argentina, and a formal devotion developed over time as it spread throughout the country and into Brazil. Upon Francis’s election to the papacy, the devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, received global exposure and it is now the fastest-growing Marian devotion. In October 2013, the Holy Father used the opportunity of a visit to Rome by the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima to give recognition to Mary’s faith, using many images of her role in untying our knots.
When I recently opened my novena booklet to pray for the assistance of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, I smiled when a small note from my wife fell out of it. She had secretly put it there on our anniversary, shortly after the first time we prayed the novena together and experienced a healing in that difficult time. The note reminded me simply that she would say “yes” again if she had the opportunity, and in this was a powerful reminder of what Our Lady had done for us.
Entrust the tangled knots of your life, whatever they may be, to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. No difficulty is too light or small for her, and like Wolfgang and Sophia Langenmantel four centuries ago, my wife and I have experienced, first-hand, the powerful healing she can bestow on marriages.
Blessed Mother, take into your hands
the knots that affect married couples,
and with your long fingers of love and grace,
undo these knots for the glory of God.
Visit married couples with your grace,
renew their sacramental covenant,
increase God’s love in them,
and strengthen their bond of peace
so that, with their children,
they may always rejoice in the gift of
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for us.
Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.
John Knutsen is the diocesan Coordinator for Evangelization and Adult Faith Formation. He holds a BA in History from the University of the Pacific, an MLitt in Ancient History from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland), and an MA in Theology from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California. John lives in Arlington with his wife Colleen and their daughter Gemma. They are parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More.
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