Pope Francis does have a special devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. While studying in Germany in the 1980s, he discovered this devotion at the Church of St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg. In the church, there is a painting from about 1700 that depicts Mary in heaven surrounded by angels. She stands on the crescent moon crushing the head of the serpent, Satan. She holds a long ribbon and is untying a large knot, one of several on the ribbon.
Perhaps the inspiration for this depiction of the Blessed Mother arises from the writing of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (martyred in 203) in his treatise “Adversus Haereses” (Against Heresies): “Mary, the Virgin, is found to be obedient, saying: ‘Behold, O Lord, your handmaid. Be it done to me according to your word.’ Eve, however, was disobedient; and when yet a virgin, she did not obey. … Having become disobedient, (Eve) was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. … Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”
This devotion had a profound impact on the devotional life of Pope Francis. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he introduced and encouraged the devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. The devotion was so intensely popular throughout Argentina and Brazil that the British Guardian called it “a religious craze.”
The Prayer to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots is as follows:
“Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the Evil One himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands, there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with your Son and my liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot. (Mention your petition here.)
I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all. You are my hope. O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution, and, with Christ, the freedom from my chains. Hear my plea. Keep me, guide me, protect me, O safe refuge.”
This beautiful prayer, similar to the “Memorare,” moves us to invoke the compassion of our Blessed Mother. In her maternal care for each of us, she wants us to remain close to her Son, Jesus. Never would she want the burdens of life to cause us to lose hope or despair.
Yes, sometimes our lives may seem one big knot due to circumstances beyond our control, as when we face the medical problem, financial disaster and difficulties in relationships. Yet, we look to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, who stood faithfully at the foot of the cross with her Son, trusting that every Good Friday will pass to the glory of Easter.
Moreover, poor children of Adam and Eve, we must look to the humble obedience of our Blessed Mother. So often the “knots” of life are of our own making. How often we “knot-up” our own life by disobeying the commandments and the teachings of the church, and then even blame God and others (as did Adam and Eve) for what we chose to do. Nevertheless, with humble and contrite hearts, we can depend upon the prayers and intercession of our Blessed Mother to show us the way and to help us unknot our lives so as to live in the freedom of God’s children.