Mary Untier of Knots

by Jim Manney

As Pope Francis settles into the tough work of governing the church, I’ll bet he’s drawing strength from a Marian devotion that he himself is responsible for–the devotion to Mary the Untier of Knots.  The devotion is depicted by this early 18th-century painting showing Mary calmly undoing the knots in a long rope.

The painting was commissioned by a nobleman to give thanks to Mary for saving the marriage of his grandfather.  The story goes that the couple, on the verge of separation, went to a Jesuit named Jakob Rem for help.  The priest prayed before an image of Mary that all the knots in the marriage be loosed.  Sure enough, they were.  Pope Francis saw the painting when he was a student in Germany.  He took a copy of it back home and promoted the devotion.  Devotion to Mary the Untier of Knots is widespread in Argentina and Brazil.

I love this devotion.  No jaw-dropping miracles; no thunder and lightening; no feats of spiritual heroism–just the patient, painstaking, dogged untying of knots.  That’s what Francis is going to be doing as pope.  That’s what all of us do every day.

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Jim Manney

Senior Editor at Loyola Press
Jim Manney is a popular writer on Ignatian topics (God Finds Us, A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer) as well as the editor of many books on Ignatian spirituality, including What Is Ignatian Spirituality? He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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April 5, 2013

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda G April 5, 2013 at 7:21 am

Patient. That word keeps coming to me. I wonder if it means something and whether there is a fastfastfast way to find out.

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Lynda April 5, 2013 at 9:08 am

Mary Untier of Knots is new to me and I find this very profound and applicable to our everyday lives. Thank you.

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Mary April 5, 2013 at 10:52 am

This is new to me too! I’m a teacher & aunt so I’ve tackled many knots in my days via shoelaces that is. I’ll never look at knots the same again!

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Jean April 5, 2013 at 11:32 am

I had to smile as I read this blog post. Some time ago, a neighbour required emergency bypass surgery. He was an Anglican married to a South American Catholic. She begged for prayers, etc., and yes, he survived, however he had a knot in his leg from where the surgeon had harvested a vein and the knot wasn’t dissolving. Infection, pain, discouragement, the works. Again, please pray for him, o.k., will do. So, I offered to set up a Novena to Our Lady Untier of Knots, contacted internet friends of my husband’s all over the place. I gave them a knotted cord rosary to pray, knowing the wife would know how to do this, could teach him, we’d all pray together, intensely. Long story short, the Protestants prayed the novena nine times in a row, I guess I didn’t make the nine day plan clear, and when the knot did finally dissolve, this neighbour returned the rosary to me stating it wasn’t part of his religion so didn’t want to keep it.

I guess the moral of the story is that Mary can help untie all kinds of knots, but the tightest are those people tie and tighten themselves.

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Linda G April 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm

That is hilarious. I am gonna smile for the rest of this rainy afternoon! Thanks!

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Jean April 5, 2013 at 4:31 pm

The most amazing thing about this Untier of Knots Novena we organized was that the friend in the U.S. belongs to something of a megachurch, southern Baptists or Evangelicals. He gathered together enough participants to pray for this neighbour of ours who faced additional surgery to correct the serious and extensive infection in his leg. They prayed the entire novena nine times, all in one go. He said it was tough getting through it, but they understood the need and the power of prayer. Yet, after the healing, here was this neighbour returning the rosary. I had purposely chosen a knotted cord rosary, one made of fishing twine with a knotted cord cross, no corpus so as not to frighten him off. I don’t know whether it was the inclusion of our Blessed Mother in the prayers that unnerved him, or whether it was that the prayers were answered and his leg well healed. Maybe next time someone begs prayers of us we’ll have to issue the warning to be careful, you just might receive a miracle – can you handle it?

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Linda G April 5, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Well to be honest I don’ t say the rosary either although I have no doubt that Mary leads us to Jesus. I can’t seem to be able to or want to concentrate on mysteries (visual strategy) while holding beads (kinesthetic strategy) and say prayers (auditory strategy). All those strategies of communication going at once is distracting as only one of those will take dominance and the other two go by rote. Sort of like putting a cup on the table and then wondering who put the cup there. The rosary is not for everyone in that it is tedious and the mind just wanders so the prayers become rote like reciting a poem or doing a yoga mantra. As well some (misinformed) people have the concept that we pray TO Mary (we ask her intercession with Jesus) or that we worship her (we worship God) and that may have set your friend off. Or maybe he is just like me and prefers to dial direct. The medium doesn’t matter, the prayer does.

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Jean April 5, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I’d never actually participated in a novena before. The reason I suggested this for our neighbours was that they were despairing and felt helpless. It seemed a good idea at the time, and the Untier of Knots a perfect fit. The nine days in a row fit the model of praying without ceasing, while giving a start and end point for this particular petition as well as involving them. I don’t mind praying FOR others, but I had the impression from them that they weren’t doing much praying on their own from the way they spoke – i.e. “there’s nothing we can do” “it’s not getting any better, only worse” “all we do is go to doctor’s appointments”.

Linda G April 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Well really if you tell someone to do something nine days in a row it does sound like one of those chain letters that tell you to pass it on to nine people and something horrible will be prevented.

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Jean April 5, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I strongly suspect the cardiac guy, being Anglican, felt very uncomfortable about inviting Mary to join in on our prayers, though I’d hoped his Catholic wife, would have had a better grasp and would have explained it all. That said, you don’t undo a lifetime of prejudice and misconceptions with one novena, usually. In this case though he was elated for the healing, but when he’d received his gift he didn’t want any more of an alien spirituality. You’re right about the rosary not being for everybody, and that is one of the beautiful things about our faith, we have so many ways to connect with the Divine. I don’t find the rosary tedious, but enter into a space with it I would not otherwise get to. I sat in the family member’s waiting area at the hospital yesterday while my daughter underwent surgery. My heart was pounding, I was anxious, so I pulled my rosary out of my purse and sat off to one side praying for her. The acute anxiety left, my heart rate returned to normal, so definitely the rosary has a beneficial physical element to it for those of us who pray it.

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Linda G April 5, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Right on. My grandmother prayed constantly and always had her rosary. I remember her falling asleep (and likely when she left this state of being for the next) praying with the rise and fall of her breathing and I’ve done it too. How is your daughter doing? I will remember her when I say my prayers this night.

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Linda G April 5, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I think, re: your cardiac patient thinking prayer isn’t working, that some folk think of prayer as a zap in their desired direction. They don’t get it (and I saw this with a lady who has Hep C — she went off her meds because, she said, Jesus healed her. Until the next day when she was very sick having missed her meds). I reminded her that God sent us doctors and medicine. Fortunately she went back on her meds and kept praying too. Yikes. People get scary sometimes.

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Michelle April 5, 2013 at 11:48 am

I learned of Mary and the knots while on my 30-day retreat, and it has proved a potent image not only them but when things get all knotted up here, too!

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Tom April 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Sometimes you hear something so simple and yet so profound that you immediately know something important has changed inside. That’s what happened for me as I read this post, Jim. And it seems so typical of our new pope that he would discover a simple, yet powerful, image that could gently open hearts and make room for grace.

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Jas. E. Miner April 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I am always amazed and consoled by finding out about some of the more obscure devotions to Mary. This is a good one. It speaks to the virtue of persistence. Devotions to Mary have been helpful in my life. My friend Eva gave me a Marian holy card “Our Lady of Good Remedy” at a time when I was having vascular problems due to an auto accident. Eva was unaware of my affliction, she just sensed that I needed to pray to Mary more. I recited the prayer on the back of the card for the first time, and later that evening I sat down to watch television. The first thing on the TV was an advert about the wound care clinic at Seton Medical Center. I went there then next week and learned what I needed to do to take care of my leg. A retired Monseigneur was on the treatment table next to me. We said a prayer thanking God for the skills and talents of our care givers. Seton Medical Center was originally known as Mary’s Help Hospital.

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Marg April 5, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I love this image! As a knitter, I can so relate. When I think of the evenings I have spent unknotting a ball of wool that got itself in a mess, well you just get it. You must work with every knot until it’s “not.” I only wish that I had the patience to stick with solving other problems the way I stick with unknotting wool. How many times do I give up and throw it across the room?

m.

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Linda G April 5, 2013 at 4:44 pm

You too get mad and get it gone? Heeekkkk you have company here. My computer knows better than to cross me.

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Kate April 5, 2013 at 10:59 pm

I am Anglican and I love Mary. I talk to her all the time. We Anglicans come in all shapes and sizes.

Thank you for this article I really appreciated the simplicity of this image of Mary untying knots. One of me best memories was sitting with my Gran untying knotted necklaces from my jewellery box.

Linda G’s deconstruction of the elements of prayer – visual, auditory and kinesthetic is enlightening – thank you, Linda G.

All those misreadings of the novena’s- the Baptists doing all nine at once, the Anglicans praying 9 in a row – seemed so sweet to me in a way. They show how well-meaning we can all be, how easily we can get it wrong and how God does something with all of it anyway.

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Jean April 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Kate, that is exactly how I felt about the Protestant community praying the novena – the main thing was that they joined in, we were united as one body in prayer, all division put aside. God heard our prayers, was pleased to confer a healing.

I gave my Anglican sister-in-law an Anglican rosary made out of olive wood from the Mount of Olives. I don’t think the prayers are the same as our Catholic rosary, and while she hasn’t used it yet was pleased to accept it. She lives in a small community in the Maritimes and neither she nor her pastor had ever held one of these rosaries in their hands so were very interested in it.

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Linda G April 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Kate, that deconstruction comes from neurolinguistic programming (NLP) from which we get our Learning Styles Inventory. It isn’t a proven science and it doesn’t always work but when it does man does it ever. You can bring someone right into sync with that if you do it right — but what’s right? It’s fun and I enjoyed learning the little bit of stuff that is available on the subject.

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Linda G April 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I often think God smiles at us when he sees how hard we try. He really doesn’t need all that fuss and charism, we do, that’s what I told my catechism students. (So they wouldn’t go home and decide to play church and light a candle. The phone rings. The cat knocks the candle over. The curtains catch fire. I had it all played out in my head so I told them God doesn’t need that stuff).

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Jean April 6, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Linda G – daughter is doing better, thank you for your prayers and thoughtfulness. Surgeon found what he was looking for, hopefully this will be the only surgery required.

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Linda G April 6, 2013 at 7:25 pm

You’re welcome of course.

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Kate April 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Jean, thank you for your kind and thoughtful reply.

I feel as if knots are being untied right here in the forum. I am thankful to have found this small space.

Anglicans are a funny lot despite having a somewhat standard liturgy and a consistent lectionary, there can be a lot of difference between the way that regions practice the faith. Interestingly, some of the newest growth has come from the churches who call themselves “Anglo-Catholic”, another way of saying “high church” (I never really liked that phrase, though). I am very familiar with an Anglo-Catholic parish here on the West Coast of Canada. There is an altar for Mary in the Sanctuary. One of my best memories of that church was sitting in mass when a Buddhist Nun walked into the sanctuary to leave a basket of apples at Mary’s Altar – I pretty sure that nothing like that happened before or since so it was quite something to see it.

Peace and many good thoughts, thank you again for your good insights.

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Linda G April 6, 2013 at 7:14 pm

You’re welcome, Jean. How come I never heard that term Anglo-Cath since you and I are in the same province! But then I don’t pay attention to a lot of things. I look for sameness in people and even the JW’s have things in common with us.

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Linda G April 6, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I meant you’re welcome, Kate. Sorry, I am clicking way too fast as usual. Then I get mad at the computer cause it’s too slow.

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russ rentler April 6, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Here is a song I wrote about the Blessed Mother called “Untier of Knots” which was partially inspired by this devotion. It is also my attempt as a new convert to the Catholic faith describing my discovery of Mary and how as a Protestant I failed to Call her blessed (speak well of her name)

http://youtu.be/ToPHTH1StgI

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Jean April 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I just watched your video, beautiful graphics music and words, thank you! As a child I was drawn to Mary, but as a convert to Catholicism I was afraid to pray to her, the one stumbling block to my conversion, afraid it would constitute idolatry (as I’d been taught by my Protestant mother). One afternoon, reading a book on Mariology, I dared to pray “Mary are you really there?” and I heard the response with the ears of my soul “Yes, with open arms!” There was no turning back on my journey to the Easter Vigil and full communion with the Catholic Church. Mary certainly untied the knots I’d been bound with.

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Linda G April 9, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Praying to any entity who is not God (incl Jesus and the Holy Spirit) is idolatry however we pray WITH Mary who leads us to God. We ask her for intercession like asking Mom to talk with Dad for us. Of course she is really here! We have a whole communion of saints around us all the time and she is the mothr of us all.

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Jean April 9, 2013 at 9:53 pm

You’re right – it IS different, and definitely never adoration or worship. Thanks for clarifying that. The communion of saints was a revelation to me in the beginning, too, so reassuring. We have a friend who is an atheist and believes when we die that’s it, like a computer turned off. I pointed out that even turned off, a computer retains memory, but he would have none of it. For him, once he’s dead, that’s it, game over, nothing more. I told him that if he’s right, then none of our faith makes any difference, but if I’m right, and I’m certain I am, then when he dies he will come to the realization that he has spent his entire life living as though moving towards a great dark void.

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Jean April 10, 2013 at 12:19 am

Linda, I just looked up praying TO Mary in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2679 states “Mary is the perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus’ mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.” So, praying TO her is not idolatry, any more than asking her to pray WITH us. But we don’t offer to her prayers of worship or adoration, which belong only to the Holy Trinity. This is what you were clarifying, right? I wanted to cite this quotation from the CCCB for the benefits of non-Catholics who read this blog.

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Linda G April 10, 2013 at 9:03 am

Exactly, Jean — it’s a matter of English language. The pray to Mary means pray to her regards asking her for intercession to God whereas praying to God means adoration and worship and our own awareness that God is the Keeper of the Keys. When we pray to God we humble ourself before our Creator.

Kate April 6, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Anglo-Catholic is likely only in the bigger cities – just a guess there but I am likely right. Peace again to you!

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Linda G April 7, 2013 at 8:36 am

I will check that one out. Yes we’re a relatively small town, only about 130 thousand of us.

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louisa April 6, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Personally, As a child , Mary is so much a part of the Family’s devotion. Personally I also have a deep relationship in her not through devotion but more of my personal way of relating with her and I experienced her companionship all through my growing years. I don’t really beleived in repeated novena’s but I have seen how the Rosary which is the simplest devotion to Mary, had accompanied my Grandmother in her old age, and preparing her death. Then my parent’s devotion praying the rosary and helping many migrants return back to church and saved their Marriages through Mary leading to Jesus. It may sound weird nowadays..But deep inside me, I beleive in Mary. For a time, I stopped communicating with her through praying the rosary but recently, I returned to praying the rosary again because I find it very simple and yet I find way again communicating to her through it. Actually, this Painting is very unique because it shows Mary really close to our human pains and struggles as she herself experienced the most excruciating pain by witnessing her son’s suffering and not fully understanding everything at times confused maybe ….which is really a part of our human life. Thank you for this….

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Linda G April 7, 2013 at 8:33 am

I honour Mary as well although I don’t use the rosary or novenas or those prayers where you cut off part of your purgatory (I thought Vatican II took those off but apparently they are still going?) et al. The other day I invited Mary to come share my coffee with me. I assimilate Jesus into my life as part of me and pay homage to Mary as well. It’s part of my ADLs as we say in medical terminology (activities of daily living).

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Maureen April 7, 2013 at 8:09 am

Thank you, Jim, for sharing this devotion! As a Bronx-born Irish Catholic, I was not aware of the devotion. The Holy Spirit inspired commentary on your post has been nothing short of amazing….thank you, all! I echo the comments about Linda G’s breakdown of the different approaches to our prayer life…love the connection between learning methodology and our prayer life! Thanks again!

I plan to pray to Mary, untier of knots, to allow me to “let go” and “untie” a beloved friend, who is ready to hear God’s call to move on in her life. As much as I will miss her, I know that we will be connected by an invisible thread. As a visual learner, who is also fond of the kinesthetics in prayer, I feel so blessed to have read this post…and commentary. Easter Joy to all….and gratitude, too!

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Linda G April 7, 2013 at 8:48 am

Hmm. I just let go of a huge piece of writing that wasn’t meant to be, last night during Examen with an imagery with a wisdom figure (Jesus) where you ask for a gift, which came immediately after I said I don’t need to do that sort of thing (blah blah dept). Strange as it may seem to someone whose passion is not writing, when you let a piece of work go it’s like ending a shouldn’t-have-been marriage/relationship/career/lifestyle. I never thought to connect it with untying a knot. Thanks, Maureen!

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Jean April 7, 2013 at 1:41 pm

This blog post has raised a variety of topics from praying with religious art (including icons) and the use of sacramentals, to popular devotions. I would urge all to refresh their memory and look up these topics in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in particular the section on Indulgences, 1472-79, 1498. The Vatican website includes the Catechism, just google it. Protestants and those of other faiths might like to read up on these topics in order to better understand their relevance in our faith life.

The obtaining of an Indulgence is not only part of our faith it is encouraged, but it must be understood correctly. An Indulgence is not a get out of jail free card. In fact, when Pope Francis gave his first blessing upon being elected, he granted an indulgence to all who were gathered below in the square and to all who were watching and following on tv, radio and other media.

Catechists in particular have a wonderful opportunity to instruct Candidates and Catechumens in the proper use of the above. These practices can enrich our prayer life, strengthen our relationship with God and neighbour, but they must never supplant – as St. Jerome said, we worship the Creator, not the creature.

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Linda G April 7, 2013 at 11:10 pm

The plenary indulgences sound so involved and almost unattainable. Most of us never go near places or events such as those entailed to gain indulgence. Is this Biblical? Is the indulgence available to all Christians or only Catholics?

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Jean April 8, 2013 at 9:51 am

We are not people of The Book (Sola Scriptura) as Bible based Protestants often claim to be. Nor are we people whose personal faith justifies everything, again a Protestant standpoint (Sola Fides). We are people of Sacred Tradition, Magisterium, Sacraments as well as Sacred Scripture. Therefore, the granting of indulgences is authentic in that we can call upon and gain from the deposit of Grace attained by others as permitted by Papal authority. Certain requirements (again, as determined by the Church) must be fulfilled in order to qualify for an indulgence, often including going to Confession. As Protestants do not view Confession as a Sacrament, no, an indulgence would not be granted. That said, only God knows the mind and heart of another person, it’s not up to me to determine. Indulgences may be obtained from simple acts – speak with your priest about these, a long list, actually, without having to leave your own neighbourhood. I agree, the whole business of Indulgences is complicated, though still legit. Where we got into trouble years ago was over the selling of indulgences – this sparked the Reformation. The granting of indulgences was not wrong, but the profiting, monetarily, was (Simony). I think a lot of people believe Indulgences are a thing of the dark ages, long gone, but they are not, however seeking them should not be the mainstay of one’s spiritual life. Prayer, participation in the Mass and other Sacraments, good works and charity, all these are at the core of living the Gospel. Again, still legit, even making the Stations of the Cross gains an indulgence, in fact you’re probably gaining Indulgences unawares.

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Kate April 16, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Russ – thank you for posting your song. It is beautiful.

Inspired by this forum, I have started a novena with Mary Untier.

Peace and thanks for all the writing here.

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Joan Haselman April 29, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I had to smile. It is wonderful counsel for us to think of the answer to this Novena is just, dogged perseverance in undoing knots, which is what Our Lady does for us, as the Second Eve, when we

turn to her, especially in this powerful devotion. And we are called to serve her and Our Lord Jesus with this very dogged perseverance. And it is just like a Jesuit to counsel us to expect

no miracles, except, except… Pope Francis brought this devotion to Argentina, where they do expect miracles from Our Lady, and the devotion spread because of, well, the miracles. And two great Archbishops, one now a Cardinal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Charles Chaput, both have a strong devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. I think she is helping them quite a bit, as she has been helping Pope Francis. And last, but not least, is another miracle; Jesuit priests praying a Novena.

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Terri Patterson May 1, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I received a prayer card tonight for the Virgin Mary as Untied of Knots and I just love your reflection. It is very humbling yo me personally. We get all knotted up in political struggles with each other. I will pray that Mary will intervene on behalf of our country’s issues that knots may be untied rather than made.

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Concepcion Flores September 16, 2013 at 11:08 am

I was introduced to this beautiful prayer by the Women of Grace program on EWTN and have started a Novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. I found the picture showing her undo the knots and tangles we weave for ourselves, so very moving. Her patience shows the great love she has for us. I too find my mind wandering when I say the Rosary and often stop to ask Her to help me focus. My children went to school with the Salesian Sisters and they stated that the Rosary is the most powerful weapon we have against evil. Jesus cannot deny His mother anything, and of course she always wants the best for us. Pray of rme.

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CHIO January 3, 2014 at 11:36 am

I am new to this novena. i learnt about it today and have started the rosary and prayer. I pray that mother Mary intercedes for me like she did for others.

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