Mary Poppins and the Blessed Virgin Mary

The outrageous but bizarrely supportable thesis statement that I lay before you is this: Mary Poppins symbolizes the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Specifically, it is about the Mother of God’s spiritual motherhood of humanity and her occasional “pop-ins” into this world, either in the form of apparitions or more subtle “everyday” intercessions.  It thus depicts a “post-Assumption” Mary, though with many allusions to her earthly life as recorded in the Bible.  I apologize for the ridiculous length of this analysis.  Feel free to just skim it or, even better, not read it.  All right, ladies and gents, here we go …

(By the way, I am talking about the 1964 Walt Disney Film, not the original book series by P. L. Travers, on which the film was loosely based … and I do mean loosely, because P. L. Travers all but disowned the film).

Mary Poppins is the Blessed Virgin Mary

There are several notable characteristics that both Mary’s share (more or less):

Heavenliness

Both Poppins and Our Lady have their homes above the earth.  Our Lady is Queen of Heaven.  Poppins similarly sits “enthroned” on the clouds.  Both exist far above all other creatures but nonetheless “come down” to aid those in need.

Motherhood

Both Poppins and Our Lady have maternal roles.  However, neither one is literally the biological mother of their respective children but nonetheless adopt them like their own.  Since Our Lady is the Mother of Jesus, Mary spiritually becomes our mother when we get adopted into God’s family as Christians.  Similarly, Poppins is a nanny, which is a sort of “spiritual mother” aiming at fostering children in virtue.  It also seems that Poppins has done this for a very long time and has got her motherly tactics down to a flawless science, something Our Lady shares too, no doubt.  She knows just what to say at just the right moment in order to move people in the right direction, even if it involves employing tricks of reverse psychology.  Her songs may seem shallow and silly at first but, upon closer inspection, prove to communicate deep and profound truths about supernatural realities (as I shall demonstrate later).  Furthermore, the lessons she instills do not only apply to children but eventually effect everyone in the movie, something that resembles Our Lady’s universal care of souls.

Virginity

One of the only roles an unmarried woman could occupy in Edwardian England respectfully was that of a nanny.  Hence, many governesses lived as virgins throughout their lives.  This relates to Our Lady’s perpetual virginity, as both their roles somewhat paradoxically also involve being a kind of mother as well (something normally involving the loss of virginity … which goes without saying).

Miraculousness

Though Our Lady perhaps didn’t perform miracles during her earthly life, she most certainly did after her assumption into heaven.  Poppins, too, performs miracles left and right.  In fact, all the supernatural events that happen seem to be connected to her (an allusion perhaps to Our Lady being the “Mediatrix of All Blessings”).  Sure, you could say Poppins is a “witch,” but I think this claim is adequately dispelled after Michael says, “Maybe she’s a witch” to which Jane says, “Of course not, witches have brooms.”  It’s a pretty solid argument.

Sinlessness

That magic tape-measure which “reads people’s souls” also shows us that Poppins herself is “Practically Perfect in Every Way,” an allusion, I would say, to … that’s right … the Immaculate Conception (i.e. Our Lady was conceived without original sin, thus not possessing the sinful inclinations that the rest of humanity shares).  One may raise the objection, however, that Our Lady was perfect in every way, not just practically.  However, to use precise theological terminology, Our Lady didn’t possess complete ontological perfection (only God has that … like the perfection of having omnipotence).  Hence, even Our Lady was not perfect in every way.  What Our Lady did have was complete moral perfection, that is, her will never wavered from God.  Hence, it can be said that Our Lady’s actions were always perfect … that is, she was perfect in practice … or … practically perfect in every way.

Queenliness

Although there’s actually no sufficient evidence that Mary Poppins is an actual “Queen,” she does, I would say, have an air of royalty about her.  At the very least, she seems to possess higher power than any other creature and is subservient to no one (except one thing which I shall point out), and even Mr. Banks, who hired her, when he tries to order her around ends up effectively doing whatever she wishes.  She takes command of every situation, as one would expect a Queen would amongst her subjects.  This may strike some as “proud,” but I do not think she ever goes that far.  In fact, if one grants she may be of some royal background, she starts to appear quite humble.  She has come to serve rather than be served.  When she is assigned her room, she says, “Well, it’s not exactly Buckingham Palace” (as if that’s her usual surrounding) but says with a smile, “Still, it’s clean … yes, I think it will be quite quite suitable” just as Our Lady is content in dwelling in the pure of heart, regardless of its simplicity … even though she deserves more.

This view of Poppins as Queen (or at least, some kind of “leader”), helps dispel the quasi-popular notion that Poppins is “unloving.”  She says about herself, “I am kind, but extremely firm.”  This theme runs throughout the whole movie.  Mary indeed loves those to whom she is entrusted, but she is forever wary about defending them from emotional excesses that might arise from her showing too much explicit love.  The Church’s rules and regulations operate in a similar way, for as G.K. Chesterton says, “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.”  The Church with all its rules can appear cold, but the result of following her rules is joy.  Our Lady, I think, should be viewed this way as well.  She is a General, who trains and leads her Legion of spiritual soldiers against the darkness.  Doing such things must involve tough love, and you will not always feel loved in this undertaking.  However, all things have been carefully designed for our betterment to the last detail.

Gracefulness

Related to Our Lady’s lack of moral evil is her fullness of grace.  In common speech, “grace” means “simple elegance or refinement of movement” or “courteous goodwill.”  In a similar way, “divine grace” makes our soul act in a way pleasing to God.    Poppins, being a most elegant and refined creature thus is a reflection of the divine perfection of Our Lady.  This even includes her applying makeup, which is something, if done in the right spirit, that simply is used to please others.  This connection between “divine grace” and “attractively polite manners of behaving” seems to echo Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s words when he said, “Politeness is charity, charity is love, and love is God.”

Some people would say, on the other hand, that Mary Poppins is guilty of vanity, which is excessive pride and admiration in one’s own appearance.  Is there proof that Poppins is guilty of this?  She indeed looks in a mirror a couple of times, which is ample evidence to condemn her in some people’s minds.  But I would argue that such offenses are not offenses in themselves.

If Our Lady is full of grace, higher than all the angels, and her soul magnifies the Lord, then it is reasonable to speculate that Our Lady could legitimately enjoy her own reflection … because she reflects God Himself.  She is, of course, a limited reflection of God.  That principle also applies to any reflection of her.  What I’m trying to get at is that any representation of God’s mother, such as in religious icons, never accurately captures the Mother of God with adequate reverence.  No painting, no matter how divine, does satisfaction to her ineffable glory.  I am reminded of this, curious enough, when Poppins’ reflection in the mirror takes on a life of its own and begins singing (first in harmony and then flamboyantly by itself) to which Poppins exclaims, “Cheeky!”  That is how I view most Catholic art about Mary.  All of it seems cheeky.  In fact, the character of Mary Poppins, despite how representative she may be of the Mother of God, is nonetheless, cheeky.  All things considered, though, she’s not that bad of a likeness.

But, when all is said and done, if you point out that Mary Poppins falls short of perfectly portraying the Mother of God, I will, unfortunately, agree with you.

(At the very least, the movie toned down Poppins’ apparent vanity from the books, so much so that the author complained.)

George Banks is a Materialist

Mr. Banks is a materialist insofar as he puts excessive emphasis on worldly goods and scorns things that reek of the supernatural.  He regards his job as a money-grubbing banker as the most important thing in his life.  He takes it as a model for everything, as when he says, “A British bank is run with precision.  A British home requires nothing less.”  He disapproves of the nature-defying tales told to him about Poppins, like having tea parties on the ceiling.  When things happen that transcend his simplistic views, he becomes bewildered and rancorous, thinking he is in control, but Poppins proves otherwise and shows that this “wise man” is actually quite a fool.  He wants things that are “fraught with purpose, yes, and practicality” but he isn’t clear what the ultimate purpose is for any action.  He wants to make money, but for what?  He preaches about the importance of having “heirs to his dominion,” but he neglects spending time with his family.  He demands following some hand-picked customs and rules but doesn’t care what they help preserve (except that they vaguely prevent “a ghastly mess”).  He regards himself with god-like importance but fails to show what actual good he has done in his superficial existence.  When he sits down at a piano, he wants it to be tuned, but he doesn’t even know how to play.   In short, he wants things he doesn’t need (or has no consistent reason for needing).  This is, you could say, the essence of materialism.  And some results are vain pride and a troubled family.

Winifred Banks is a Feminist (i.e. extreme, secular feminism)

The machismo bred by the materialist thinking of certain men eventually may attach itself to the female mind as well.  As men focus more on themselves (now that they no longer focus on God), their attention turns away from women too.  This can incline women to be more masculine, for they see men in love with themselves … and so by assuming more masculine qualities, a woman may hope to be what men seem to want.  There is, of course, the added motivation for a woman to do this in order to try and provide for herself things which men no longer give.  Consequently, women rightly resent this male self-preoccupation, but it paradoxically impels them to masculinize themselves a similar way.  This, of course, doesn’t work.  Men actually don’t like manly women, and thus it fails to have the intended effect.  Upon realizing this, such women are confused and live the muddled role of both genders, trying to remain feminine to be lovable, while trying to be masculine to be noticed (and to try to give themselves what men no longer provide).  This ideological complex of conflicting reactions, I would say, broadly and somewhat vaguely, sums up what is called “feminism” (at least the “extreme, secular” kind … as opposed to simply the advocacy of women’s rights which are truly owed to her).

Something of this dynamic seems to be present in Mrs. Banks.  We see Mr. Banks constantly disparaging womanhood, with such phrases like “slipshod, sugary female thinking.”  Mrs. Banks, no matter how lovable she tries to be with her dainty mannerisms, continues to receive nothing but harsh criticism from her egocentric partner.  Not surprisingly, Mrs. Banks possesses a contrasting pseudo-masculine side to her personality, very much in rather humorous conflict to her exaggerated, charming, marital subservience.  I speak of her “crusade” for women’s suffrage (which, if some of you don’t know, simply means “the right of vote in political elections”), a perceived government solution to a woman’s desires when her desires are not fulfilled by the man who supposedly promised to serve her.  This historical movement in Britain (and throughout the world) was the chief issue around which “feminism” at this time revolved.  Whether the merits of giving votes to women are virtuous or not (I’m not necessarily saying they’re not), there is little doubt that many of its advocates had larger agendas involving the further masculinization of women which proved rather problematic.  The underlying impetus behind much of the suffragette movement also spawned the great migration of women out of the home to join men in the workplace.  Whether this was intrinsically evil or not, it nevertheless led to a massive increase in the neglect of children, as their mothers, previously their naturally most-suited caretakers, were now caretakers of “more important things.”  This would actually promote the use of contraception and abortion, since women found the only way to keep their jobs and yet not neglect children was, in fact, to have no children.  This natural line of reasoning was the fruit of the feminist movement and is still widely lived out today.  With Mrs. Banks, we see, at the very least, the explicit neglect of her children, her preoccupation of things outside the house, and the lack of tranquility it brings to the home.  Some viewers somehow think the movie is actually promoting feminism through character of Mrs. Banks, but, in fact, the writers of the script (see the DVD commentary) purposely made her a suffragette to explain why she wasn’t there as a mother, thus causing the tension in the beginning of the movie that requires Mary Poppins to intervene and make things aright.

Jane and Michael are Marian Apparition Seers

While their parents are caught up in useless, worldly concerns, Jane and Michael are as yet untainted.  They represent that innocent, pure, receptive side of humanity that is still willing to be taught.  This is simply because, as children, they are still child-like, a quality which grown-ups must retain or re-learn if they hope to perceive the truths of the faith and attain salvation.  Many other people see Mary Poppins but never see the truly wondrous and supernatural reality about her.  Because of their humility, Jane and Michael, even though they are perpetually in wonder, are, paradoxically, the only “normal” characters that really understand what’s going on.  Nonetheless, despite their littleness, they eventually help to have a profound effect on their parents.

Bert is St. Joseph

Both Bert and Joseph are poor, lowly workers who act as caring foster fathers and have a special relationship to their respective Mary’s.  Bert hangs around the kids and takes care of them (often making them laugh as a father would his kids), as St. Joseph does so spiritually with Christians, for Christ’s foster father becomes our own when we are adopted into God’s family.

Further, Bert embodies that spirit of “St. Joseph the Worker.”  He is amongst the lower-class, low-income, hard-working individuals of society that struggles to make an honest living … but succeeds beautifully.  Bert’s wide assortment of jobs symbolizes the universal patronage St. Joseph has to all workers of so many varying fields.

Contrasted to this, however, is the fact that St. Joseph belonged to the House of King David … that is, he possessed royal blood.  Mary Poppins, curiously enough, at one point sings the verse, “Though you’re just a diamond in the rough, Bert, underneath your blood is blue!”  When someone has so-called “blue blood,” it literally means “of noble birth.”  Yet, as with St. Joseph, Bert humbly takes on the unassuming status of an impoverished commoner … hence, “diamond in the rough.”

Nonetheless, Bert appears less perfect than Poppins, though perhaps not to a sinful degree.  He definitely has less miraculous powers than Poppins (if any?) and arguably less control over his passions (he certainly is more “silly” than Poppins … though that’s not necessarily bad, of course, but does suggest a less exalted position).  It seems St. Joseph could have been the same way with respect to Our Lady.  In fact, I think that’s theologically indisputable.

Despite any faults he might have, it’s quite certain that Bert is a chaste man, as is very clear from what Poppins sings about him:

You’d never think of pressing your advantage
Forbearance is the hallmark of your creed
A lady needn’t fear
When you are near
Your sweet gentility is crystal clear

Which brings me to my next point.  While it is evident that Bert presumably demonstrates abstinence, he is not without at least a quasi-romantic involvement with Mary Poppins, one which has seemed to exist a long time.  They definitely aren’t married in a normal way if married at all.  But they certainly know each other with some level of intimacy like some sort of loving partners.  They even tease each other quite frequently as married couples do, but it is always harmless, innocent, and fun.  This, I think, may be the image of the kind of exceptional, celibate marriage St. Joseph had with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I would say also, Bert is “in on the game” the whole time.  Bert and Poppins are a team.  Even if they seem at odds with each other here and there, really they have the same goal in mind.  They are simply working to effect people’s conversion and overall spiritual welfare.  They have done this many times before (perhaps billions of times before) and have got this down to a science.  And yet they still do this out of love.

The Wind is the Holy Spirit

In many ways is this true.  First of all, “wind” has often been associated with “spirit” throughout the history of religion (and they often are the same word in many languages).  Both are invisible things, but things which can be perceived from their effects on visible things.  “Air” gives us life, analogous to how “spirit” can give matter life … and similar to how the Holy Spirit gives us Divine Life.  Each can act with gentle, soothing effects or sometimes, for good or ill, with devastating power.

Bert, being St. Joseph (the Patron Saint of the Spiritual Life), is sensitive to the wind’s movements, while nearly everyone else is oblivious and confused.  He notices and sings the highly mysterious and mystical verse:

Wind’s in the east, mist comin’ in.
Like something is brewin’ about to begin
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store
But I feel what’s to happen, all happened before.

This is alluding to how the story of the Gospel is, in some way, going to take place again … but in a more purely spiritual way and in the lives of individual souls.  Mary is going to bring new life into the world, there will be a death, and there will be a resurrection.  It has all happened before.  And it will happen again.  That is what Mary has done and has been doing since the very first day she accepted the responsibility of being the mother of all the world’s souls.

The significance of the “east” is that Our Lady, and the divine life she brings, literally came from the East (i.e. the Holy Land).  For this reason and others, the “east” has always been more associated with “spiritual things” more so than with the “west.”  Poppins eventually reveals too, “I’ll stay until the Wind changes,” signifying Our Lady’s obedience to her true spouse, that is, the Holy Spirit.  For she is not the ultimate decision-maker for herself but still subservient to God.

Chimneys are the Spiritual Life

Once again, before taking the movie into account, chimneys already have symbolic correlations to the spiritual life.  Both are channels/gateways that connect us to a “higher realm” … the outside air (with chimneys) and the Holy Spirit (with prayer).  Chimneys bring air inside the home, as spirituality brings life inside the soul.  Further, chimneys are also connected to fire, which has long been associated with the Holy Spirit (e.g. the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of Fire on the Apostles at Pentecost) as it provides warmth, another necessity for life, which is often a symbol of love (and the Holy Spirit is God’s Divine Love).  And, lastly, the smoke which comes from it can represent incense rising to heaven.

When Jane and Michael write an advertisement for the kind of nanny they want, which Mr. Banks then tears up and throws in the fireplace, the pieces magically float up through the chimney, go into the wind, and soon enough reach Mary Poppins who responds accordingly.  This, of course, is symbolic of prayer being answered.  The wind also ends up blowing away the mundane, inadequate nannies, just as the Holy Spirit can do away with troubles we pray to be spared of.   Though Mr. Banks thought their advertisement ridiculous, just as materialists think prayer is ridiculous, he is absolutely dumbfounded when it unexpectedly gets answered (it is further unexpected that Mary Poppins is actually an answer to Mr. Banks’ advertisement as well, as she very much acts like a “general” who holds discipline in very high regard).

Later on, we see Bert as a chimney-sweep, like St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of the Spiritual Life, helps to clean up the prayer life of Christians.  When he and the kids are looking up the chimney, Jane says, “It’s awfully dark and gloomy up there” to which Bert replies, “There now.  You see how wrong people can be?  That there is what you might call a doorway to a place of enchantment.”  This is similar to how some people think prayer and spirituality are just “gloomy” things.  In fact, they bring us into a higher realm of existence of a very fascinating sort (to say the least).  Furthermore, upon gazing up the chimney, Bert sings:

Up where the smoke is all billowed and curled,
‘Tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep world.
When there’s ‘ardly no day nor ‘ardly no night,
There’s things ‘alf in shadow and ‘alfway in light.

This “halfway in shadow and halfway in light” imagery is a good reflection of the theological virtue of faith, as Aquinas calls it an “imperfect knowledge” wherein some truth of the matter is seen but not all (hence, we can choose to assent to the alleged truth of the parts we cannot perceive but are told exist by a reliable authority).  This dynamic, of seeing majestic things only partially, gives rise to a sense of wonder of what is yet unseen … the active ingredient in the spiritual life, which perceives the majesty of God but only in the shadows.

Bert then begins to show the kids how to feel the pull of the wind with the chimney broom … instructing a soul, as it were, how to be sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit.  This eventually lifts them up to the rooftops, giving them a vision, as it were, of the things above and beyond the natural (and even a greater view of the natural).  Bert describes the cool, never-ending scene of smoke stacks as a “trackless jungle waiting to be explored” similar to, I would say, the truths of the supernatural.  There is also a sense of adventure to it … and even danger.  The spiritual life is not without its perils, for, at the very least, demons lurk there (which occultists, especially, fall victim to when treading this realm uncautiously).  Similarly, the London rooftops have a ghetto-like feel to them and are riddled with chances of falling to one’s death.   Poppins rightly urges caution (and at first gives Bert a hard time for letting the kids go up there … but this was probable another teasing exaggeration, as Mary was the one who probably caused that in the first place).  But since the kids follow Mary closely, additionally being buttressed by Bert, they are preserved from any misstep and are even able to ascend higher to gain greater vision of things than they could by themselves … thanks to Mary, our guide to the Spirit World.

Ellen and Mrs. Brill (housekeeper and cook) are Nuns

It can be said that nuns have a closer identification with Our Lady, due to their celibate lives and their spiritual marriage to God.  They are thus more easily in tune with the supernatural and are aids for the laity to live out their faith.  Similarly, Ellen and Mrs. Brill have some shared characteristics with Poppins, at least insofar as they are all house servants who aid the well-being of the Banks household.  At first, the two women are in discord and even, somewhat begrudgingly, subscribe to Mrs. Banks’ feminism, just as women religious orders have often fallen victim to such things.  However, when Poppins arrives, they (particularly Ellen) actually witness supernatural events and quickly undergo a conversion to the joy Poppins brings.  Mrs. Banks later notices this and is positively influenced by it … though Mr. Banks resists and remains stalwart against this ostensibly irrational bliss.

Admiral Boom is a Traditionalist Catholic

This character is a bit complicated, exhibiting both good and bad qualities … something very much shared by Traditionalists (i.e. ultra-conservative Catholics who have held fast to old customs to the point of rejecting new developments in the Church … for good or ill).  He has converted his rooftop into a navy ship deck in order to continue living like he did back in his younger days.  This is somewhat like how various Trads are stuck in useless traditions (at least, some of which are legitimately out-dated) and rightly appear quite insane because of it.  Mr. Binnacle, the Admiral’s helper is like a well-trained Traditionalist acolyte, trained to do whatever thing is asked of him, no matter how crazy or off base.  This is all connected with his strange routine of making people know what time it is by firing off a boisterous cannon every few hours, causing entire houses to shake like an earthquake.  This is similar to how certain hard-liners attempt to impose rules on others in a most uncharitable and belligerent fashion.  It just doesn’t help.

On the other hand, the Admiral demonstrates that he has something that many others don’t.  He is somewhat attuned to the movements of the wind, as prayerful Traditionalists can be somewhat attuned to the movements of the Holy Spirit.  The Admiral notices the wind changes and accurately senses that there is a “bit of heavy weather brewing” at the Banks’ house.  Moreover, he discourses amiably with Bert and Poppins, just as most Traditionalists I know have a seemingly deep devotion to the saints (more so than most Catholics, I would admit).

And yet there is a curious kinship many Traditionalists have with Secular Materialists.  They both often take things very literally (as they both take the Bible literally, the result being materialists dismiss the Bible in order to accept Science, while many traditionalists dismiss Science in order to accept the Bible).  Both Admiral Boom and Mr. Banks seem to have something like this in common, insofar as they have a strong devotion to rules and regulations and perhaps, dare I say, miss the spirit of the law.  I have met many conservative Catholics too (with exceptions fortunately) who subscribe uncharacteristically high importance to worldly success (as many very conservative Catholics are unbridled Capitalists).  Interestingly, when the Admiral asks Mr. Banks, “How are things in the world of finance?” Mr. Banks says, “Never better. Money’s sound. Credit rates are moving up, up, up. And the British pound is the admiration of the world” to which the Admiral says, “Good man.”  Concern for money is something these two men have in common.  However, when the Admiral begins telling him about how the weather indicates that he’s “steering into a nasty piece of weather,” Mr. Banks politely ignores him.  However, the Admiral was right, but he is ignored by the materialist who has rationalized that spiritual things are illusory based on the fact that many religious people (like Admiral Boom, analogously) are out of their minds.

Andrew the Dog is a Messenger Angel

Angels are known to take the form of dogs according to many stories of saints’ lives.  Andrew definitely seems he could be one of these, clearly exhibiting powers of intellect, notably when he talks to Poppins and reports a problem that needs her attention.  He also is cognizant of some of the various supernatural events that happen, just as angels would be.

Constable Jones is a Guardian Angel

Constable Jones is the one to rescue Jane and Michael when they got lost, having been abandoned by their inadequate, secular nanny, Katie Nanna.  He arrives at the Banks house with seemingly miraculous speed when Mr. Banks calls the police station, though Mr. Banks is only superficially impressed (though, I admit, his arrival at the particular point was probably just a coincidence … right?).  Not only does he save people from danger, as guardian angels do, he also gives Mr. Banks some guidance, gently encouraging him to involve himself with his family more … particularly, about the kite (which, as I shall explain, is of particular importance).  Mr. Banks simply dismissing his advice, as obstinate souls disregard the spiritual impulses given to them by their holy angels.

Poppins’ Bottomless Bag is Our Lady’s Fullness of Grace

Poppins’ bag, from which she pulls multiple items whose sizes defy the small dimensions of their container, illustrates the paradox of how a limited being can be made to “contain” infinite being.  We see this apparent contradiction with the Virgin Mary, a small and seemingly insignificant thing who somehow had God within her … indicative too of the spiritual reality that she was full of grace, since sanctifying grace is, in fact, God dwelling within the soul.  Also, Poppins’ bag, we are told, is made out of carpet, a lowly material designed to be trampled underfoot, as humans are similarly of an inferior kind compared to God and the angels.  But, by the power of God and in a way that reflects how Mary was pregnant with God, our souls can hold an abundance of supernatural being … in fact the Creator Himself from whom all things comes.

“A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down” is Grace Making Suffering Bearable

Jane and Michael rear back in disgust when confronted with the heavy task of tidying up the nursery.  While singing this song, Mary lightens their load, providing supernatural help with her finger-snapping telekinesis … infinitely reducing the toil and making it really fun.  The tidying up, of course, is symbolic of Mary beginning to clean up the whole household on a spiritual level.  This all reflects what many saints have said, namely, that suffering is the medicine which heals us from the disease of sin.  However, supernatural grace assists us in taking that disgusting medicine in a most delightful way, which explains why saints often spoke of suffering as sweet (hence, the sugar imagery) and maintained so much inexplicable joy through their terrible tribulations.  Relatedly, Mary’s point about how we can learn from birds about not stressing out about hard work is somewhat indicative of the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus said: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)  So, God makes all things possible, and so what was once impossible then now becomes, dare I say, a snap.

Later on, Jane and Michael literally have to take some medicine.  They protest, but once again, through Mary’s intercession, it becomes delicious.  Moreover, each spoonful is magically conformed to the particular taste of each person.  This represents how grace, while coming from the same source, is diversified according to the unique needs and personality of each individual soul.  Also, I suppose it’s important to explain why Poppins herself takes the medicine … for, if Poppins is Our Lady, and medicine is the cure for sin, then doesn’t this symbolically suggest that Our Lady is sinful?  For why else would she need to be cured?  I would respond that, while Our Lady never committed sin, she was nonetheless saved from sin by grace (that is why she still refers to God as her savior).  Likewise, there is nothing to suggest that the medicine Poppins takes is anything more than a vaccine, implying that she is (at least possibly) not infected with any disease.  Just thought I’d mention that.

Toward the end of the movie, Bert sings a variation of this song with this notable verse:

A spoonful of sugar that is all it takes
It changes bread and water into tea and cakes
A spoonful of sugar goes a long, long way
‘Ave yourself a ‘ealthy ‘elpin’ ev’ry day

This, I would boldly assert, actually alludes to the Eucharist.  Sugar, which (as I’ve indicated before) is symbolic of grace, is able to “magically” transform mere bread and water into something more exquisite, a process that, at least to my mind, brings to mind Transubstantiation (that is, the miraculous transformation of Bread and Wine into Christ’s Body and Blood during a Catholic Mass).  Moreover, Bert advocates consuming such extraordinary sustenance everyday, as Catholics are encouraged to be Daily Communicants (i.e. receive the Eucharist everyday at Daily Mass).

The Magical Chalk Drawing is a Religious Icon

According to Eastern Christianity, religious icons are said to be “windows into heaven” insofar as they are designed to assist a person to contemplate heavenly things and  to receive a spiritual experience.  Something like this takes place when Mary, Bert, Jane, and Michael go through the chalk drawing into an ideal, joyful, and rather mystical cartoon world.

It seems that many of the animals they encounter there (most notably the penguin waiters) could be angels, who are there to serve humanity but hold up Mary in the highest esteem.

“It’s A Jolly Holiday With Mary” is a Holy Day with Mary

This is one of the more explicit hints that the movie is about Our Lady.  The English word “Holiday” of course literally means “Holy Day.”  The song sings of Mary in such high regard, it almost seems like they worship her … or at least hold her up above any other creature.  Furthermore, all the cartoon animals know and love Mary very well for some reason, as if all creation is calling her blessed.  Monumental happiness and love are poured out into the world thanks to her, as they sing such things as: “Happiness is booming all around her” and “When Mary holds you hand, you feel so grand, your heart starts beating like a big brass band.”  They say, “Mary makes the Sun shine bright!” just as Our Lady’s soul magnifies the Lord.  It also has the curious phrase “the daffodils are smiling at the dove” … daffodils are associated with Easter (the most important Christian holiday), while the dove of course is associated with the Holy Spirit, perhaps thus talking about how souls who celebrate holy days are taking joy in God.  With all this said, they finally sing, “No wonder it is Mary that we love!”

The Dance between Bert’s Cane and Mary’s Umbrella is when “Justice and Mercy shall kiss”

The cane, an instrument used for beating people for punishment on occasion, is the symbol of justice.  The umbrella, an instrument to spare people from harshness and discomfort, is the symbol of mercy.  Furthermore, justice is more associated with masculinity, as the cane belongs to Bert … mercy more with femininity, as the umbrella belongs to Poppins.  While often appearing incompatible with each other in this life, they are supernaturally both present in God, as the cane and umbrella are seen supernaturally and lovingly united in the air (the Holy Spirit) amidst this mystical cartoon experience.

The Magic Merry-Go-Round is Nature Elevated by Grace

Jane and Michael are very excited about this lovely little carousel, just as there is much wonder to be had in the natural world as well.  Bert remarks, “Very nice. Very nice, indeed, if you don’t wanna go nowhere,” acknowledging how nature is good but, in itself, has a somewhat cyclical quality that ultimately doesn’t take us to what we truly want. Thanks to Mary’s intercession, however, the horse-fixtures are given the power to transcend their obvious natural limitations and levitate onto a plane of more boundless possibility, just as grace, which all comes through Mary, allows us to gain access to infinite realities not found in the natural realm.

The Hunted Fox is an Irish Catholic being Persecuted by British Protestants

For hundreds of years, starting with King Henry VIII, the British Protestants have persecuted Catholic Ireland with wars and genocides, ultimately slaughtering them in the millions, but the Irish still managed to retain their faith and miraculously live through it.  In the movie, we see some well-to-do British aristocrat-types hunting down a poor fox who has an Irish accent and who laments “Tis them redcoats again!” (the term “redcoats” referring to “British soldiers”) and also prays, “Saints preserve us!” (a very Catholic thing).  The fox’s prayer is answered and a saint does preserve him, namely St. Joseph (Bert, that is) who lifts the fox up onto his horse right before he nearly gets chomped by a hunting dog.  From this position, the fox even kicks a dog in the face, symbolizing how once one is elevated by grace (as the fox was lifted up onto the levitating merry-go-round horse), he is able to evade and defeat his more powerful enemies.

Later on, Mr. Banks criticizes Mary Poppins for taking the kids out on “useless frivolities” but actually approves that they experienced a fox hunt, just as materialists condemn many innocuous religious practices but approve of the genocide of Catholics (or at least downplay how bad such events were).

Mary’s Winning the Horse Race is Our Lady Winning Salvation above all others

When Poppins incidentally beats everyone in the horse race on her magical carousel pony, it symbolizes how Our Lady has achieved grace beyond all else.  This correspondence between racing and grace is somewhat reminiscent of St. Paul who said: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

“Supercalifragalisticexpealidotious” is the Magnificat

The Magnificat is the prayer which Our Lady said, upon her accepting the offer from the Archangel Garbriel of becoming the Mother of God (Luke 1:46-55).  It signifies the acceptance of grace and, moreover, thanksgiving for it.  Similarly, when Poppins incidentally wins the horse race, she is showered with gifts and praise, and to express what she feels about this great honor, she responds with this curious song which, I propose, is far from silly or meaningless.

The Magnificat speaks about how God “scatters the proud-hearted in their conceit … casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly” … as Poppins who, being a mere woman happened to pass through a race-course, rather effortlessly beating the professional jockeys, symbolizing how Our Lady, a random and unassuming Jewish woman in a backwater middle-eastern village, became the Mother of God, after which time, all generations would call her blessed.  Also this relates to the recent fox hunt, in which the uppity hunting aristocrats are knocked off their “high horses” and are scattered, while the lowly fox is literally raised above them and saved.  It also connects with how God “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” as we see, during the song, the fox enjoying a carmel apple, unlike the British hunting dogs of the previous scene, whose failure has sent them away empty-handed.

The verse that sings, “Because I was afraid to speak when I was just a lad, me father gave me nose a tweak and told me I was bad, but then one day I learned a word that saved me achin’ nose” simply symbolizes how those reluctant to accept grace will be punished in various ways by God (our Father) until we conform to His will … that is, until we do that which is embodied in the Magnificat (i.e. accept God’s grace).

It then sings, “When dukes and maharajahs pass the time of day with me, I’d say me special word and then they’d ask me out to tea” signifying how accepting God’s grace will not only spare us from punishment but will raise us up like nobles (and I suppose it will also allow us to partake in the Eucharist, which, again, is symbolized by tea in this movie).

The verse “So when the cat has got your tongue there’s no need for dismay, just summon up this word and then you’ve got a lot to say” admonishes us not to despair during confusing times but trust in God and call upon His help.

And finally, when it says, “But better use it carefully or it could change your life,” this is to say that we should not use our God-given gifts lightly.  And we should always approach the sacraments (which give us all sorts of graces) without flippancy but with reverence.  One must approach holy matrimony, for example, with seriousness, for example, for when the vows are exchanged, the couple is given supernatural grace that binds them together until death … such a thing should not be done carelessly.  Perhaps that cartoon character who tell Poppins, “For example, one night I said it to me girl, and now me girl’s me wife” (upon which he is smacked by his spouse, to which he says, “Ow! And a lovely thing she is, too”) maybe rushed into things.  But, hey, even if a husband and wife turn out not to be the most “compatible,” if they have a sacramentally valid marriage, they nonetheless given enough grace to live out their marriage (in fact, in order to be happy, there is no alternative option for them but to do so).

Now, the song’s refrain includes, “Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious.”  This also seems true about how Christianity sounds to the world.  When someone enthusiastically converts to the faith, it is atrocious to worldly people’s sensibilities.  But, hey, so what?

Nonetheless, what does “supercalifragalisticexpealidotious” mean?  Honestly, isn’t it just nonsense in itself?

Though perhaps nonsense according to some, one can easily break it down into its apparent etymological Latin roots and reflect on what they signify given the context and interpretation thus far:

“super-“ meaning “above” or “upwards” in Latin (this may hint at something “supernatural” or at least something “higher” import) but in English can similarly mean “great” (and the first part of the word “Magnificat” is magnus, which is, in Latin, “great,” which, incidentally, comprises the first part of the word “Magnificat”) or, quite appropriately, it can mean “magnificent.”

“-cali-“ the closest Latin word being calix which means “chalice” (Our Lady is symbolized as a “chalice,” for she held Christ within herself, just as the chalice holds the blood of Christ at Mass)

“-fragalistic-“ the closest Latin word being fragilis which means “weakness” (which may refer to how Our Lady’s lowliness in contrast to the glory given her … on the other hand, it may have something to do with sin, which is the chief weakness suffered by fallen humanity)

“-expiali-“ the closest Latin word being expiare which can either mean “to expiate” or “to atone for” which often has the specific connotation in the context of religious rites (which, I would say, fits with the aforementioned part about “sin” … that is something about “atoning for sin”)

“-docious” the closest Latin word being docilis which means “docile” or “easily taught” or “responsive” or quite simply “obedient” (this may have something to do with Our Lady’s acceptance of God’s will which allowed for the expiation of sins through her Son … incidentally, Our Lady’s acceptance is often called her “fiat,” which is Latin for “so be it,” related to the Latin word facit, which means “to do,” which etymologically comprises the ending part of the word “Magnificat”)

With this, I think the word seems to point to Mary (the supernatural “chalice” who contains divinity) and how her acceptance of God’s will allowed Christ to come into the world so that humanity’s sins were finally expiated (and, again, this whole thing was sung about in Mary’s Magnificat).  Pulling together all the roots of the word as analyzed above, one could reasonably arrive at this concise definition of  Supercalifragalisticexpealidotious: “The Magnificent Chalice with which Sin is Atoned for by Obedience.”

Even though it was through Mary’s obedience that made salvation available to all, that grace must still be applied to each individual soul.  We must each follow Mary’s example and, in some way, make our own Magnificat, insofar as we must accept God’s will so that we will be freed from sin and become blessed.  We see this analogously happening throughout the movie, namely, those who say, “Supercalifragalisticexpealidotious” become good and joyful (this phenomenon very explicitly can be seen with the housemaid and the cook, for example).  Some characters say it quite frequently sometimes, as we ourselves ideally should say the Magnificent often (like in the Divine Office), to further our conversion and conformation to God’s will.  Mr. Banks, at first, obstinate to the truth, not only is unable to say the word but irrationally takes offense at it, just as materialists often detest prayer and any consequent joy that people have because of it, dismissing it as mere emotional nonsense.  This is something, ironically, that most people have probably said about this song … and about the whole movie.

Uncle Albert (the “I Love to Laugh” guy) is the Charismatic Movement

Uncle Albert represents one inebriated with “charismatic gifts.”  Not only is he inebriated (clearly), he also levitates, a phenomenon sometimes purported to happen in praise and worship gatherings of the charismatic sort.  Levitation can be a sign of consolatory grace, something, I think, that the charismatic movement capitalizes on … that is, feeling good about God.  Levitation is an important theme throughout the movie too, always a sign that the supernatural is somehow present.  It particularly happens with characters who are humble and joyful (the latter being dependent on the former).  This connects well with what G.K. Chesterton said: “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly” … whereas, “Satan fell by force of gravity.”  So, obviously in addition to levitation, Uncle Albert also exhibits the other particular charismatic phenomenon, namely the gift of laughter … obviously.

With some reservation, Mary allows everyone to float up and join the preternatural revelry (even Bert, that is, the patron saint of the spiritual life who patronizes this episode, if you will) and join Uncle Albert with their own uncontrollable laughter.  But in the end Mary pulls them all down, clearly expressing that this isn’t something that should be prolonged.  This, perhaps, you could say, is the same kind of thing with the charismatic movement.  The consolatory gifts of the Holy Spirit and all that are good, but some people get habitually drunk on the experience and sort of seek them in excess, thinking that’s what it’s all about.  But, in fact, we need to have our feet firmly planted on the ground to attend to the more mature matters of the Christian mission … namely, suffering.  So, while it is fitting we should have a taste of heaven to remind us of our goal, we’re not in heaven yet.  That’s why, when Uncle Albert returns from his “spiritual high,” he laments profusely, having experienced inexplicable glory, but is now returned to the earthly realm, submerged, as it were, in the veil of tears.

“Feed the Birds” is the Church Asking for Prayers for the Souls in Purgatory

This scene could  more generally represent the Church’s efforts to make people more charitable to everyone (like the poor, for example), but there is curious imagery that suggests an emphasis regarding purgatory.

The Old Woman seems to be the “Church Suffering” and, similarly, Our Lady of Sorrows.  Yes, I think the Old Woman seems to actually reflect Our Lady, but in her most miserable and least glorious state … something she was like at the foot of the Cross, lamenting for her Son and for those suffering because of sin.

The dirty pigeons she feeds represent the dirty, suffering souls in purgatory who are in need of people’s prayers.  The suffering of such souls is likened to that endured by damned souls (as many saints have said), but since they did not die in mortal sin, their spiritual punishment is temporary but still inconceivably horrible, as their injustices against God were never paid for during their earthly life.  However, our prayers (as well as “indulgences” for that matter) can give them grace whereby their misery is alleviated and shortened, and all of that grace goes through Our Lady.  Similarly, we see how people’s money, given to the Old Woman, becomes food for the hungry birds, whereby the birds are freed from pain.  The cinematics play into this a bit, for after we see the ratty pigeons groveling on the floor, the camera pulls back, whereupon the pigeons are flying upward now in the appearance of glowing white doves, which is appropriate since early Christian art used doves to symbolize purified souls springing from purgatory.  Furthermore, the whole scene is set against the background of St. Paul’s Cathedral, explicitly connecting all of this to the Church.  The most explicitly Catholic verses in the whole movie are uttered here when Poppins says:

All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.

Toward the end of the song, St. Paul’s Cathedral starts to fade out to be juxtaposed with a close-up of Poppins, symbolizing that Mary is, in fact, the Church.

The Elder Mr. Dawes is the False Happiness of this World

The unit of currency mentioned frequently in the movie is “Tuppence” (which literally means “two pennies”), alluding to the story in the Gospels (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4) where the Widow (probably an old woman) gives all she had, namely, two pennies, to the Temple, whereas the rich gave much more but had plenty to spare.  The point is that what little you may have to give is important … and you can either put it toward good, holy ventures or waste it on empty, worldly ones.

Michael is confronted with a choice: spend his Tuppence feeding the birds or depositing it in the bank.  The former is analogous to heavenly treasure, as it would assist souls in purgatory.  The latter is earthly treasure, worthless in itself, and the love of which is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Mr. Banks, being a materialist, obviously favors the latter and tears his son away from the better choice.

Here we meet Mr. Banks’ role-models, the Board of Directors of the bank, especially the Elder Mr. Dawes, whom Mr. Banks almost reveres as a god (or at least some kind of feared father figure).  Despite being a formidable “giant in the world of finance,” Mr. Dawes is actually just a decrepit, dying, pathetic old man who is about to lose his balance at every step.  Moreover, while supposedly being an extremely wealthy man, he is totally obsessed with taking Michael’s meager two pennies.  The overall image is a vivid one for representing worldly happiness … namely, a person who is worshipped for supposedly having achieved fulfillment in this life but is actually not fulfilled at all, his physical health failing  and desperately grasping at pocket change like a homeless beggar.  It suggests that there is, in fact, no such thing as worldly happiness.

However, all his followers have been fooled into thinking there’s something to it, and they proceed to convince the two children of that.  They sing the “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank,” an effort to tempt them into worldly nothingness, to paint emptiness like the most glorious, adventurous thing possible … but Jane and Michael, the pure of heart who have been nurtured by Mary’s care, are not convinced by the psychotic rhetoric (but rather appalled by the inexplicable enthusiasm these grown-ups have for such shallow affairs).  They ultimately reject their proposal, sparking a run on the bank, symbolizing how a small person, if they have the goodness and bravery to step up against corruption, can shake the foundations of the world.

But because they stood up for what was right, they quickly feel alone and afraid, as they are chased away and into the slums of the city.  This is the shameful ugliness that greedy English businesses created at this time, just as evil, while sometimes wearing an attractive face, has an unattractive underside that it tries to keep hidden.  Fortunately, they are rescued from this darkness by the saintly intercessor Bert (the opposite of Mr. Dawes … but, yes, ironically played by the same actor).

The Chimney Sweeps are either:  1.  The Poor (or) 2.  The Priesthood

1.  The chimney sweeps could represent the poor, whose dirtiness doesn’t represent sin but poverty and lowliness.  Appropriately Bert, the embodiment of St. Joseph the Worker, is among them, singing:

Now as the ladder of life
‘As been strung
You may think a sweep’s
On the bottommost rung
Though I spends me time
In the ashes and soot
In this ‘ole wide world
There’s no ‘appier bloke

These verses appear to be echoing Christ’s words, namely, “Blessed are the poor” as well as “the last shall be first.”  It is easier for a poor man to gain salvation in comparison to the rich.  Likewise, do we see these lower-class sweeps symbolically in possession of grace (indicated by their semi-levitatory, acrobatic, physics-defying dances), intimately familiar with the spiritual life (they practically live in chimneys), having devotion to Our Lady (they all know and love Poppins), are actually above the rich (that is, they are physically higher by being on the rooftops), and finally appear much happier than the wealthier characters despite being dirt poor.

2.  The other interpretation that works just as well is that the chimney sweeps embody the Catholic priesthood, chiefly because they clean out chimneys, just as priests work to clean out people’s spiritual lives.  This can be some pretty nasty business, as they have to hear countless numbers of confessions, but it is a happy business in the end.  This seems to be reflected again in the verses about being “in the ashes and soot” but “there’s no ‘appier bloke.”

Though St. Joseph was never a priest, he is saint to whom priests look to because he is a preeminent model of fatherhood.  Priests assume God’s fatherhood insofar as they are charged with spiritually feeding Christians (through the sacraments), similar to how a natural father would his children.  Hence, it makes some sense that Bert appears among them.

Bert also explains, “Good luck will rub off when I shakes hands with you,” which actually reflected a real belief in Britain around the time about chimney sweeps, namely that they were “lucky” and able to make other people “lucky.”  This is somewhat analogous, I think, to how priests are especially blessed and can give powerful blessings to others.

The fact that these chimney sweeps are dressed in black also relates to the priesthood, most of whom don the color to symbolize how they have “died to self” (as black commonly symbolizes death), that is, their lives are not their own anymore.  This idea is somewhat echoed by their “step-in-time” dance, in which the chimney sweeps are told to do various things (some of which are seemingly absurd), but they do it unquestioningly, joyfully, and the result is awesomeness.

While the chimney sweeps dance wildly on the roof, Admiral Boom sees them at a distance and mistakes them for hostile “Hottentots” whereupon he opens fire.  This is similar to how Traditionalists often mistake friends of the Church for her enemies.  In my experience, ultra-conservatives seem to be inclined to accuse displays of joy and pleasure with paganism.  I have seen on many occasions how conservatives have also demonized the poor (relating to the first interpretation of the chimney sweeps).  Likewise, I have also encountered radical Traditionalist Catholics who have denied that Catholic priests today are actually priests (because they don’t agree that the new Ordination Formula was valid or something … it’s complicated).  Admiral Boom again demonstrates that he’s just a bit crazy and short-sighted … just like, I dare say, a Traditionalist.

Mr. Banks Getting Fired from his Job is Man’s Personal Death and Resurrection into New Life

While women are more receptive to religion and spirituality, men are more stubborn and proud and must be broken more thoroughly.  When Mr. Banks demands Poppins to explain the baffling events in his house, she says, “First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear …. I never explain anything” which, I think, alludes to the idea which Thomas Aquinas explained quite well: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.  To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”  Mr. Banks still does not have faith, but now it is time that he must.  Poppins knows that gentleness with him is not going to be as effective.  He must now undergo a painful trial.

When Mr. Banks receives the call from the office summoning him to the death of his career, he slumps into a deep spell of despondency.  Moreover, he points the finger at none other than Mary Poppins, saying, “It’s that Poppins woman!  She did it!”  as many people, especially those of particularly worldly bent, often attribute their troubles to the Church.  In many ways, the Church does destroy people’s lives … dissembles their prosperous, well-ordered livelihoods that are ordered to nothing.  God dashes the expectations they have for themselves and then, unexpectedly, lifts them up to a higher level of happiness that their narrow-mindedness never thought possible.

As Mr. Banks mopes, Bert is providentially there to talk to him, man-to-man.  Since Mr. Banks is desperate, he is open to hearing the wisdom of this unassuming pauper.  Sometimes, that is the only way people are willing to listen to the truth … when their false sense of security has been dashed to pieces.  Bert awakens him to the realization that the “happiness” he is losing isn’t really happiness at all … that it has actually been distracting him from his true purpose.  Bert, this symbol of Christ’s foster father, shows Mr. Banks what is to be a true father.  And, perhaps without even knowing it, he starts looking to Bert as the model of a caring father rather than to the Elder Mr. Dawes, whose love is nothing but illusory (once again, they’re ironically played by the same actor).  Mr. Banks is struck speechless for once, as he now realizes his life has been a sham.  With Bert singing “A Spoonful of Sugar,” it indicates that Mr. Banks will not be without help in this upcoming trial.

After this, Jane and Michael give their Tuppence to their father.  Mary Poppins is shown giving a subtle smile of victory and then walks off screen because the children have finally settled on giving what little they had for a good purpose … particularly, planting the seed for their father’s salvation.  Their father looks at them lovingly … probably for the first time … thanks them, and then heads out to meet his fate.

Mr. Banks is not converted yet at this point.  He is getting there.  He has become uncomfortable, forced to open his mind, and has caught a glimpse of a higher existence.  But to complete the cycle, as every person must, he must die.  This is how we are conformed to Christ … we must undergo a kind of death because of sin.  Only then will we be converted in full … only then will we be like Christ.

In a sublimely melancholic scene, he walks through various dark, garden-like scenes, reminiscent of Christ in the garden prior to his crucifixion.  On his way, he looks up at St. Paul’s Cathedral as if for the first time.  He can finally see past the end of his nose.  He finally sees the Church, even though he walked passed it every day.

When he arrives at the bank, he is escorted in an execution-like march to the Board of Directors, like Christ being marched to Calvary by the Roman soldiers.  When in the presence of his persecutors, they finally pull the trigger.  They do to him what he has feared most.  He has lost the world.  He experiences trauma in both heart and mind.  This is symbolized by how they ruin his hat (his mind) and the rose pinned to his left lapel (his heart).  They also take his umbrella (which, as said before, represents mercy) and destroy it too, which indicates that the world, when all is said and done, is without mercy.  But these unaesthetic “wounds” will become glorious ones that Mr. Banks will wear with pride.

After undergoing this symbolic death, he looks at the childrens’ Tuppence, whereupon he can now clearly see its significance.  He is freed from what was holding him back, namely the excessive love of the world, and can finally understand the nature of love beyond it, demonstrated to him by his children thanks to Poppins.  He then exclaims, “Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious!” which, as said before, symbolizes the acceptance of grace, which he has finally now done.  This symbolic submission to God’s will results in uncontrollable joy.  Furthermore, he attributes all this to Poppins, once again indicating that Our Lady is through whom all grace comes.

The Directors can only assume that Mr. Banks has gone mad since worldliness still blinds them to the supernatural.  Mr. Dawes Senior flatly denies the existence of the word Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious, just as worldly people ultimately deny any happiness beyond the world.  The ecstatic Mr. Banks responds, “Oh, yes. It is a word. A perfectly good word, actually. Do you know what there’s no such thing as?  It turns out, with due respect, when all is said and done,” and then defiantly points to Mr. Dawes, that representative of worldly happiness, “that there’s no such thing as you!”

Now that Mr. Banks has been condemned to potential poverty, he nonetheless gives what little he has, namely the Tuppence, to the Elder Mr. Dawes, just as his children gave it to their father.  He thus plants the seed for Mr. Dawes’ conversion.  And sure enough, Mr. Dawes soon begins to laugh and levitate, after which, we are told later on, he dies … the symbolic death of worldly happiness (and, I suppose, a kind of deathbed conversion that the ultra-obstinate are sometimes granted).  Thus is shown the significance of one small act of charity and its power to germinate and affect great change throughout the world.

The next day, everyone thinks Mr. Banks is dead.  However, he emerges from the cellar, similar to how Christ emerged from the cave upon His resurrection.  People hardly recognize him, or think he’s insane, but they come to realize that he is transformed into a better man, and it vivifies the whole household.  The materialist mindset is gone.  He now lives in the spirit.  He now has true happiness.

“Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is Family Prayer

Flying a kite represents heavenly contemplation, directing people’s attention “up to the heighest heights” and “up where the air is clear” away from earthly things, where there is no earthly distractions.  The movements of the kite allows them to see the movements of the invisible wind … that is, as said before, the movements of the Holy Spirit.

At the beginning of the movie, Jane’s and Michael’s kite is in shambles, as they did not have help from their parents, just how many parents neglect the spiritual well-being of their children with disastrous consequences.  Now that Mr. Banks has become child-like (a necessity for salvation) and a believer, he leads the family in prayer, as it were, and with great success, since God has ordained the father to be the spiritual head of the family.  Because his own soul is in order, the soul of Mrs. Banks naturally and easily follows.  She rightly ties her suffragette sash to the kite, surrendering her secular feminism and assuming a kind that is in tune with heaven and which keeps her united to her family (whether she is giving up her campaign for women’s votes altogether is unclear … frankly, I have no idea).  A family that prays together, stays together … which is what this kite scene most definitely expresses.

Off to the side, Bert, being St. Joseph the patron saint of the spiritual life, is fittingly seen handing out kites (like rosaries), offering them to everyone, though some just walk past him.

Not only do we finally see the Banks family in harmonious accord, we also see the Directors of the Bank donning kites in child-like fashion too.  This of course is indicative how they too have converted to the way of Poppins, and it was through Banks’ suffering which affected this, similar to how those who put martyrs to death sometimes end up converting because of it.  They even re-hire Mr. Banks, elevating him to a higher position, showing, of course, how the Christian life, despite its momentary deprivations, ends up giving to people more than they had before.

And, let us not forget, all this came through Mary Poppins.

Mary’s Umbrella is the Holy Spirit (as well)

Even though I previously claimed the Wind is representative of the Holy Spirit, I also believe Poppins’ umbrella also has this identification (at the very least, her umbrella is very much connected with the wind, as they both work in concert to make Poppins fly).  But particularly, her umbrella is the Holy Spirit as spouse to the Virgin Mary.  Poppins is seldom seen separate from it (as if married), and the fact that it has a bird handle is somewhat related to how the Holy Spirit is most often represented as a bird (though the former is a parrot and the latter a dove, I admit).  And, the umbrella, as mentioned before, represents mercy, a quality that is particularly attributed to the Holy Spirit, who is Love.

Speaking of Love, when Poppins is packing her bags, Jane and Michael beg her to stay and ask her, “Don’t you love us?” to which Poppins enigmatically replies, “And what would happen to me, may I ask, if I loved all the children I said good-bye to?”  This does seem problematic if, in fact, Poppins is Our Lady.  However, it is worthy to note, she never actually denies she loves them.  Still … curious.

Larry Fahey, in his article Something Steely, Unsympathetic, and Cold: A Reconsideration of Mary Poppins (from The Rumpus website, June 22nd, 2010), after expressing great distaste for the seemingly uncaring character of Poppins, turns around completely toward the end and admits:

Mary represents discipline and, specifically, the idea of giving children less love, or at least what too many parents think of as love—namely, indulgence. What if Mary Poppins, a supernatural being if ever there was one in cinema, is the higher, less familiar idea of boundaries, consistency, and authority? Their parents, and specifically their father, have a strong sense of propriety, but that’s not really the same thing. As I said, Mary doesn’t try very hard to make us or anyone else like her, and maybe that’s the point: Maybe Mary Poppins is meant to suggest that love and indulgence are different things, and that sometimes love looks cold, efficient and decidedly unsentimental.

Once again, the theme of tough love.  It is a love that doesn’t always seem like love but is sometimes necessary to mold the human soul properly, so as to purge its imperfections and ready it for the challenges later in life.  However, is Poppins truly without “sentiment”?  Oftentimes “sentimentality” has the connotation of being self-indulgent, but there also seems to be a good kind that simply involves feelings of tenderness, sadness, and nostalgia.  It would seem rather wrong and inhuman of her to lack this, right?

I think the dialogue between Poppins and her umbrella sheds light on the issue:

First of all, when the Banks family are off blissfully flying their kite, Poppins watches in background, almost as if they had forgotten her and the fact that she was the one to lead them to their happiness.  The umbrella says to her, “Look at them!  You know, they think more of their father than they do of you!” to which she replies, “That’s as it should be.”  This, I believe, points to the notion that Out Lady, despite her greatness, is ultimately not the end goal to which souls should strive.  She assists us in gaining communion with God the Father, and does not demand further recognition when that goal is achieved.  That is Mary’s purpose.  And she humbly accepts that.  Incidentally, this proves conclusively that Poppins is, in fact, not vain in the least, as she is completely content to fade into the background without any thank-you’s for the wonderful, life-changing effects she had on people.

But then the umbrella asks, “Well, don’t you care?” and Poppins replies, “Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking” which suggests that she is without sentiment.  But then the umbrella responds, “Is that so? Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Mary Poppins, you don’t fool me a bit …. I know exactly how you feel about these children.  And if you think I’m gonna keep my mouth shut any longer …” whereupon Poppins gently shuts the parrot/umbrella’s mouth and says, “That will be quite enough of that, thank you.”  With the proposed interpretation, this may seem to suggest a disharmony between Our Lady and the Holy Spirit, but I think this is a profound example of “marital teasing” in a supernatural tongue-in-cheek type way.  This also strongly hints that Poppins clearly does have feelings for the children but is pretending not to,  while knowing that it’s pretty obvious to her companion that she does.  Stuff like that always happens between couples, of course.  But still, while she cannot hide it from her umbrella (after all, the Holy Spirit is omniscient), is it really that big a deal to hide it from everyone else?

At the end of his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton said something about Christ which may apply, perhaps to an infinitely lesser degree, to the Virgin Mary, and may apply also to Mary Poppins, especially in light of the last scene of the movie:

And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

As Christ may have held back his mirth lest humanity be overwhelmed, so Poppins held back her womanly sentimentality.  Our Lady, I think, is bursting with sentiment for us, but is not showing it all the time … for our own good.  If that makes any sense.

Mary’s Departure into the Clouds is Mary’s Assumption into Heaven

Without even collecting her wages (as far as I can tell), Mary sneaks away.  Joy remains even with the retraction of her comforting presence.  But, we are left with the reassuring hint that her absence will not be forever as Bert gives us the last line of the movie in a knowing, amiable, and almost offhand way: “Good-bye, Mary Poppins.  Don’t stay away too long.”  She turns to look back, smiles, and continues on her way.  But just as Our Lady was taken into heaven, she did not leave us.  She keeps coming back.  Her job isn’t finished.  What’s about to happen, all happened before.

So many people have seen Mary Poppins but have grown desensitized to it, often how Catholics grow desensitized to Our Lady.  My advice is to go and re-watch the movie and rediscover both.  I used to think it was just another shameless, corny musical, but now with this analogy in mind, it’s honestly a rather mystical experience (despite the fact that I usually prefer action movies).  Mary Poppins is just a little too weird to not mean anything.  Whenever a piece of artwork is shrouded in seemingly random nonsense and yet endures as a classic, you can bet something’s going on.  Something secret … in this case, the secret about Mary.

But if you’re not convinced and you think this is completely blasphemous, then I don’t know what to say.  Oh wait … I know … but it’s something quite atrocious.

Mary, Mother of God and Mother of us all, pray for us.

(For another similar movie analogy, see Star Wars and the History of Vatican II)

About Remus

I am a teacher at a High School in Minnesota. I've taught History, Philosophy, Literature, and Psychology. That's about it.
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86 Responses to Mary Poppins and the Blessed Virgin Mary

  1. Sylvia says:

    And you are still allowed to roam free on the Internet . . .

  2. Corpsmangirl1 says:

    Absolutely amazing! Thanks so much for posting this. It was both a real pleasure to read and a relief to have it all together in one place (after hearing fragments for a long time now). Congratulations!

    • Remus says:

      Thanks. I’m glad it hear that you found it readable AND enjoyable. Much appreciated.

      • Corpsmangirl1 says:

        Oh yeah, all the way! Incredibly informative.

        Just wondering: In the “supercalifragilistic” song Mary says to Bert that you could say it backwards (but more or less it’s each part of the thing said in reverse order), and also notes that this would be “going a little too far, don’t you think?” Can you find a way (or have you thought of any possibilities) to reconcile this part of the song to your definition? I would love to know.

    • Remus says:

      I was afraid someone would ask about the backwards “Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious.” Yeah, I have no idea. Well, I have this vague theory in the back of my mind:

      Our Lady has a level of communion with God beyond the reach of anyone else. In that scene, Poppins is analogously instructing souls how to gain communion with God and realizes that some of the more complicated/mysterious/difficult variations of divine communion she is able to have with God is too much for the average soul to handle.

      Yeah, I think that makes sense. Does that make sense? I’m open to suggestions.

      • Corpsmangirl1 says:

        Yeah, I think that makes sense. Okay, after a bit of research, here’s my take on “dociousaliexpiicsticfragilcalirepus:”

        “Docious” – you explained above, obedience.
        “ali ex” – Latin phrase meaning “from another” or simply “of another”
        “piistic” – this one’s a little more tenuous, as no one seems quite sure whether the “L” in fragil travels into this part of the phrase or stays with fragil, so let’s just assume it stays. That being the case, this fragment is closely related to the Latin and Greek words for fish (Latin “piscus”). The early Christian symbol of the fish was a sort of acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, the Savior.” So really, the Fish is Jesus.
        “fragil” – like you said above, it means weakness, but is really something easily broken or on the point of being broken.
        “cali’ – while it is the chalice, St. Thomas Aquinas uses “calix” in the Summa simply to mean Christ’s Passion, just like when Jesus says in the garden, “if it is possible let this Chalice [His Passion] pass from Me.”
        “repus” – from the Latin verb ‘repo’ meaning ‘to crawl.’ If used in the substantive form, you have a ‘crawling/creeping one.’ So, who’s the creeper? The serpent in Genesis 3:14, which reads, “On your belly shall you crawl…I will put enmity between you and the woman…he [the offspring of the woman] shall crush your head.” The crawling one, the serpent is understood to be the devil.

        I put all of this together to end up with, “The obedience of another, namely Christ, weakens, by the Passion, the serpent.” In some way when Mary had the grace to say the Magnificat, she was also accepting the Will of God that her Son would die and crush the serpent, thus fulfilling the Protoevangelium of Genesis. Poppins pulling Bert aside reconciles with this in two ways I can think of, one being that though Mary “pondered all these things in her heart” (Luke 4), she must have at some point talked to Joseph about what they meant (right? I mean, they both heard Simeon’s prophesy at the Temple). Also, Poppins says that even though you can say it backwards, that’s probably a little too much to introduce right into the end of such a happy, fast-paced song, to which Bert “indubitably” agrees, just like it might have been a bit much for Mary and Joseph to go around telling the Jews that their baby was the Messiah and was going to die for them. It was true, but too much.

        So, that’s what I came up with. A little far-fetched (if not a lot), but it’s something. Your input?

      • Remus says:

        This is really fascinating. I am going over all of this in my head very thoroughly.

        I think the “repus” referring to the “crawling one” (i.e. the devil) and the connection with the Protoevangelium and is spot on. There has to be something there. Likewise, your interpretation of “cali” has gotten me thinking too.

        I think perhaps “-piistic-” looks like it resembles “pisticus” (more than “piscus”) which means “pure” or “genuine” (a lot of potential it seems)

        On the other hand, instead of parsing it out like “ali ex piistic,” you could do, “ali expi isitic,” with “ali” still meaning “another” and “expi” still meaning “expiation” … and “istic” happens to be exactly the same spelling of the Latin word which means: “there / over there / in that place” or “where you are” or “herein / in this affair” … the result is something like “another expiation where you are” which might point out the idea how, even though Mary’s obedience allowed Christ to expiate humanity’s sin, each person needs to apply those merits of Christ’s passion to their own souls by their own obedience and thus, in some way, make “another expiation in themselves.” But, man, I don’t know. I’m not sure how to pull it all together in a coherent fashion then. But I’m going to keep thinking about this.

    • Maureen says:

      I have a different version.

      -docious: an adjective form of being led and taught. (docere)
      -expiali- : -pialis is an adjective form of “pii”, the blessed dead. So expiali- would indeed be an adjectival form of “those who have expiated”, or “out of the blessed dead.”
      -fragilistic: able to be broken
      -cali: heat, warmth, zeal, love.
      super-: above, upon, over, exceeding.

      Super-loving-frail-expiating-teachable.

  3. Rose K. says:

    Bravo! Everything made perfect sense. I can not wait to watch “Mary Poppins” again!
    My very favorite part was the definition of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

  4. Nicole says:

    So happy to have this in print!
    A thought of mine regarding Mr. Dawes Sr/Worly Happiness– Geo. Banks forces the tuppence into the old man’s clasp (rendering to Cesar the things that are Ceasar’s?) Immediately, the old man’s conversion follows (a parallel of Pontius Pilates’ legend, perhaps!)
    Especially love your interpretation of the Bird Woman as Mother Church. Too bad Michael had to rob Dawes to pay Paul…

  5. You have made me come to doubt my own sanity, LOL, great work!

  6. Howard says:

    Very good!

    You’re unduly harsh on traditionalists, though. I’m not exactly a traditionalist in the sense you mean, but I value even “the traditions of men”, let alone the traditions of the Church. (Christ did not say that “the traditions of men” were worthless, only that they were not to be placed above the commandment of God.)

    • Remus says:

      I didn’t mean to completely dismiss “the traditions of men” but merely critique the tendency of some to stubbornly hold on to certain ones which have become legitimately out-dated and beat them over the head of other people. Did you think I was saying something else? Should I make a clarification in my post?

    • scarletworm says:

      I agree with you on the Traditionalists. If it had not been for the brave souls who held fast in maintaining tradition- we would be like the Protestants who have no regard for Mary as the mediatrix of all graces. Her statues were removed from many churches, perhaps tucked behind the tabernacle which had been moved to a back room somewhere. Few Catholics who were raised in the Novus Ordo have any idea how to pray a rosary or do the Stations of the Cross.

  7. Dcn JMSW Bowlin says:

    Excellent! Mary Poppins is my favorite movie for many reasons, and this just makes it even better.

    One day I’ll get around to writing a paper with the thesis: Mary Poppins as Theology of the Body for Children, but first let me get through seminary…

  8. nothy lane says:

    This definitely begs another viewing of Mary Poppins!

  9. Robin says:

    Wow! I started reading this aloud to my husband, not realizing how long it was…we were both captivated! We started off giggling a bit, but your arguments became more and more compelling and you’ve convinced us! VERY clever – not at all contrived! Can’t wait to share this with others!

    • Remus says:

      That’s fantastic to hear. I was really worried that it wasn’t captivating enough. And I’m really glad that it evoked laughter too, while not sounding like BS at the same time. That’s really reassuring. Thank you so much for that comment.

  10. Ridiculous. A true feat of human reason. I loved this so much ^___^

  11. Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious article!
    I had merely thought MP John the Baptist, turning the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents. Your scholarship is utterly delightful!
    —Kathleen

  12. scgirl529 says:

    Absolutely amazing. I love this article. Has it been published anywhere (besides here)? It definitely should be!

    • Remus says:

      I had a very small prototype version of it published in my college’s student newspaper several years ago. But I only just posted this far more definitive version yesterday or so.

  13. Michael P says:

    As a 40 year old male (hey who is gonna actually know who I am?!) who has loved this movie since he was a child almost as much as the other greatest movies of all time (Star Wars IV, V and VI). Hey do you have anything on Star Wars an its’ relation to Catholicism?…just thought I’d try. Thanks for the article and your heroic effort!!

    • Remus says:

      Well, that’s rather incredibly coincidental that you asked because I DO have something on Star Wars and its relationship to Catholicism. I argue that the Star Wars saga represents the History of Vatican II. Here’s the link. Just to warn you, I do take into account the prequels, even though they suck.

      Wow. So, you honestly did not know about my Star Wars post? I mean, what are the chances that you should ask that specific question? That’s really eerie. And awesome. I’m going to be freaked out for the rest of day … or week … or life. God Bless.

  14. Mark says:

    Great piece. I always knew Mary Poppins had deeper meaning, but I didn’t know how deep! The great thing about having kids is having the chance to show them classic films like this. Just a few years ago when my daughter was really into Mary Poppins, I happened to be reading Chesterton’s Manalive. Throughout that book I kept making comparisons to Mary Poppins. I can’t recall all the connections, but there are several (the wind bringing the main character into and out of the story, being one). I’ll have to go back and reread it in light of your article. I remember thinking that perhaps the Disney folks got some ideas from Manalive (which was published decades before Disney made Mary Poppins (and about 20 years prior to the Poppins books)). Or maybe it’s that ‘great minds thinking alike’ thing. I wonder if Disney read Chesterton. Hmm… if so, maybe we’ve got the start of another great article!

    • Remus says:

      That’s a good point. There does seem to be an unusually strong connection between Manalive and Mary Poppins. Chesterton was really popular back then, even among non-Catholics … so I think it’s extremely likely.

  15. Dave says:

    Enjoyed this very much, thank you! By the way, where did you get the fact that Walt Disney was Catholic? I thought he was nominally Protestant, sent his daughter to Catholic school, but pulled her out because he was afraid it was having too much of an influence on her.

    • Remus says:

      Oops. I swear that I read multiple sources that said Walt was a Catholic. But, I’ve now checked, and he most definitely was not. How embarrassing. Thank you for pointing that out, Dave. I’ve now corrected the error on my post. That was humbling.

      • Robin says:

        You know we were thinking, that if your suggestions are indeed what lies beneath this film, that it was either intentional on the part of someone (now we can perhaps eliminate Walt as that someone), or it was indeed something more supernatural. So don’t give up your thesis!

    • Remus says:

      Robin,

      Oh, don’t worry, there’s no danger of me renouncing my thesis simply on the basis of finding out Walt wasn’t Catholic. I didn’t mean to give you that impression. I was just really embarrassed that I told so many people that Walt was Catholic when he … actually wasn’t. But that doesn’t change my mind about any of the apparent symbolism (likewise, in my other post I argue that Star Wars represents the History of Vatican II, even though I always knew full well that George Lucas isn’t Catholic). So, once again, I’m not retracting any single sentence of my thesis regarding the symbolism. No worries.

      However, I just remembered that Walt was inspired to make the movie because his daughter (who attended a Catholic school and was apparently influenced by it) liked the Mary Poppins books. So, there’s that to ponder on at least.

      • Dave says:

        The Walt Disney Studio was a collaborative effort, and someone obviously had a devotion to Our Lady. Look at Pinocchio and the original plans for the Ave Maria portion of Fantasia, for examples. But, to hear the Sherman brothers talk about how they wrote the songs and how the movie came together, there seems to be little public evidence of the filmmakers intentionally referencing these themes. Perhaps the inspiration came from a higher source. I’ll point this out to Dick Sherman next time I run into him!

      • Remus says:

        Really? You know Dick Sherman?

  16. grandad bill says:

    I thought you might enjoy this article.

  17. Awesomeness to the extreme! Thanks!

  18. Rob B. says:

    What might it mean that Bert and Mr. Dawes are played by the same actor?

    • Remus says:

      Both Bert and Mr. Dawes are ideals of happiness, especially with regard to what it means to be a father. However, Bert is the good ideal (and possesses true happiness) and Mr. Dawes is the bad ideal (and possesses false happiness). Mr. Banks first looks to Mr. Dawes as his model but then replaces him with Bert (as when Bert subtly explains to him how his work has been distracting him from caring for his children … the scene right before Banks goes and gets fired).

      Does that make sense?

  19. sue Scofield says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read the entire article just now, but enjoyed what I did read immensely. I do object though, to your criticism of Traditional Catholics. We came from high Anglicanism 15 years ago, and would have come sooner except that it seemed to us that the Catholic Church was no longer Catholic. Priests were encouraging contraception, the liturgy was casual without reverence, the woman seemed to have taken over the church, the archbishop in this diocese refused to speak out or act regarding abortion. Our children were in Catholic schools; they often came home dismayed by what they had seen and heard in the schools. Yes, it was better than the secularist environment of the public schools, but onlly because our children were beling taught the Catholic Faith in a small, tight Catholic-like cuiture and at home. When we did convert (my husband was 61 and I ,58l, our 4 grown children and their spouses followed within a year. We love the Church, but are happy that She is recovering slowly from Vatican II and returning to her roots. Be cautious, please, in your criticisms!

    • Remus says:

      I have had much experience personally dealing with Traditionalist Catholics of all sorts, including fairly innocuous ones to schismatics like the SSPX and sedevacantists. They have preserved much that the opposite liberal extreme have discarded, and for that I compliment them, but ultimately they are simply another unhealthy, opposite extreme. Even if someone is only “sort of a Traditionalist Catholic” I view that in the same way as someone who is only “sort of a liberal Catholic.” Either way is leaning off balance from the simple, straightforward, unqualified “Catholic” position. I sympathize with their reactions to the horrors of the fallout of Vatican II, but what needs to happen is a synthesis of the two sides, for as long as one side exists, people will react and join the opposing side, because (believe it or not) each party has good things that the other lacks. It’s a hard concept for a lot of people to realize because modernism has trained us to think dichotomously in this way, but I undoubtably think it’s true. It’s the only hope we have that can repair the damage of Vatican II … indeed repair the modern world.

      You might be interested in reading my post comparing Star Wars and the History of Vatican II, which discusses this very thing.

      If you have a criticism of something I particularly said, that may be helpful. Otherwise, I’m not sure what exactly you’re objecting to.

      • sue Scofield says:

        You seem to me to be operating from a prejudice; you are generalizing about people you know precious little about. I attend both Novus Ordo and Tridentine Masses, and I agree that, in the end, they must converge. However, sometimes extremes are necessary in order to get to the middle. The Anglican liturgy, beautiful and reverent with in a lofty, but understandable, liturgical language may, very well play its part in the end result. You never know. However, your generalities about conservatives and traditionalists sort of undermines your creditability. – Sue

      • Remus says:

        “You are generalizing about people you know precious little about.”

        Some of my best friends are Trads, and I’ve discussed their views with them for several years in very nitty-gritty ecclesiastical detail into the early hours of the morning. I’ve even attended Catholic Traditionalist conferences, including ones in Europe. I am personally acquainted with Trads who run Traditionalist newspapers and make a living off preaching Traditionalist ideology. I have attended numerous Tridentine Masses, both those in line with the Pope and even those which were Schismatic. What else do you suggest I do to gain knowledge about Traditionalists?

        “The Anglican liturgy, beautiful and reverent with in a lofty, but understandable, liturgical language may, very well play its part in the end result.”

        I think you’re right about that.

        “However, your generalities about conservatives and traditionalists sort of undermines your creditability.”

        What precisely are you referring to? What claim did I make that allegedly undermined my credibility?

  20. Jeanne G. says:

    Really neat. I love Mary and I enjoy Mary Poppins (athough I haven’t seen it for at least 15 years). I was surprised at all the aha moments I had as I read this post. Thank you!

  21. Fabulous! I will never watch this movie the same way again! Can’t wait to show this to my husband and children.

  22. Quick touch up – I believe the quote is “I am kind, but extremely firm” not “stern.” Makes a difference. :-)

  23. Therese Z says:

    We used to talk about things this way in college when our brains were limber and we had time (and coffee, and cigarettes). Loved this, I wish people would discuss books and movies this way more often – THERE’s a book club I’d join!

  24. Chris Chan says:

    Great article– I have wondered for a long time if P.L. Travers was influenced by G.K. Chesterton’s “Manalive,” given that Innocent Smith enters with a great gust a wind and a gigantic carpetbag and shakes up a stuffy house.

    In the original novel “Mary Poppins,” in the first chapter Mr. Banks is said to have told his wife that she could have a perfect, luxurious, well-staffed house or she could have four children (the twins have been cut from the Disney movie), but she couldn’t have both. So Mrs. Banks thought about it for a long time, and decided to have the children. Later in the series, she has a fifth baby, and there is no appreciable decrease in the family’s standard of living. The suffrage aspect of her character isn’t in the books.

    • Remus says:

      Thanks, Chris.

      Apparently, if I recall correctly (from watching the DVD commentary), the Sherman brothers at Disney expressly came up with the suffrage aspect for Mrs. Banks to explain why she was absent from her kids, thus necessitating the great need for a nanny.

      I should probably read Travers’ books (I was holding off lest they might ruin the inspiration for this article … but now I got no excuse).

  25. Theophilus Bos says:

    Other than that it’s “Vale of Tears” not “veil” … practically perfect in every way!
    Thank you so much.

    • Remus says:

      Thank you.

      Actually, “Vale” is the poetic term for “Valley.” The phrase “Vale of Tears” comes from the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer to Our Lady, which sometimes reads “To Thee do we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this VALLEY of tears” or in other versions simply “…VALE of tears.”

      That actually confused me for awhile, too, I admit.

      • Theophilus Bos says:

        Now you have me confused … what are you referring to when you say “submerged, as it were, in the veil of tears.” ? That’s an expression I’ve never heard, I’m sorry that I just assumed you had misspelled “vale”.

      • Theophilus Bos says:

        Oh, wait … it’s a clever pun!
        Your thesis had me so engrossed, I momentarily lapsed into the sort of pedantic twit I normally despise. Sorry!

  26. sanabituranima says:

    BLESS THIS POST!

  27. Anna says:

    I wonder if there is an agreed upon meaning for the term “Traditional Catholic”. I always thought of them (and now myself) as having more devotion to the Extraordinary form instead of the Ordinary form of Mass. I am not saying that there aren’t Traditionalists with some/most/all of the characteristics you mention, but not all (and I doubt even a majority) have all those characteristics, so I don’t agree with your description of “Traditional Catholics.”

    • Remus says:

      For the record I didn’t just say “Traditional Catholic” … I said “Traditionalist Catholic.” But I suppose that might not matter. In any case, I know Catholics who prefer the Extraordinary form but do not like being called Traditionalist.

      I think “Traditionalism” is simply the inclination to preserve a set of traditions and to shun attempts to alter them. Some traditions should be preserved, and attempts to change them are bad. However, some traditions are bad, and attempts to change them are good. Sometimes the traditionalist inclination is useful in saving customs that ought to be saved. However, sometimes liberal inclination is useful in abolishing customs that ought to be abolished. Sometimes the traditionalist inclination is detrimental to abolishing customs that ought to be abolished. Sometimes the liberal inclination is detrimental to saving customs that should be saved. To say that you are going to side with one or the other tendency in general is just setting yourself up for error, as you are either going to end up stubbornly defending some useless customs (if you choose the path of the Traditionalist) or stubbornly attacking some useful ones (if you choose the path of the Liberal). Obviously, you ought to have different tendencies depending on what custom you’re talking about. This is too complicated for most people, it seems … maybe it’s not their fault. A lot of people really seem to think they are only capable of really siding with one or the other and take the attitude “to heck if I fall into error because it’s more important that I don’t follow the other tendency … or something … yeah.” Well, fine, if that’s true, and you side with a general tendency of action regardless of the objective truth of what you should actually do in each situation, don’t complain if people point out how your error-prone tendency has led you into some errors.

      If that doesn’t make sense, I’m willing to try to explain myself again.

      But I would like to know what you meant when you said “not all (and I doubt even a majority) have all those characteristics, so I don’t agree with your description of ‘Traditional Catholics.'” What characteristics are you referring to? Could you be more specific? Because I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please help me understand.

  28. scarletworm says:

    I loved your article. My only disagreement was about Traditional Catholicism being represented by the Admiral and his ship. Ships have always been symbolic of the Church. The Admiral must then be the Pope. Any analogy including the Blessed Mother would surely reference the Papacy and the Catholic Church.

    • Remus says:

      You’re free to believe that, and if that results in a more uplifting experience for you when you watch the movie, then I encourage it. However, I cannot in good conscience connect the Admiral with the Pope. The Admiral has too many faults.

      Indeed, his ship can be associated with the Church, but that doesn’t make him in the Pope, nor does it stop him from being a Trad. Mere priests and bishops have also have been compared to leaders of their own ships/churches, and I think it would be useful to view the Admiral as a clergyman of an individual Traditionalist parish (or Traditionalist sect). In fact, considering that the Admiral’s ship is really not a ship at all, but an eccentric (and perhaps unintentional) mockery of one, you could further relate it to a schismatic sect which claims to be the true Church but really isn’t.

      Also, I’m not sure how you could defend the claim that “Any analogy including the Blessed Mother would surely reference the Papacy and the Catholic Church.” In the works of the Church Fathers, or Louis Marie De Montfort, or any Marian Devotional Literature and Mariology, most analogies made about Mary do not involve ones about the Papacy (in fact, I can’t remember if I can recall any that do). I would say that a greater potential weakness in my whole analogy is that there is no direct analogy to Christ in it (though plenty of indirect ones). But if you apply the same principles to Mary Poppins as you could to other works of art about Our Lady, you’ll find this is not too much a problem, since there are many pieces of artwork that depict Mary but not Jesus. Furthermore, many more pieces of artwork of Our Lady do not depict the Pope either (in fact, none come to mind at the moment … I’m sure I could think of a couple later on). So, I would therefore disagree that any analogy including the Blessed Mother would surely reference the Papacy.

      Lastly, as I said before, the Admiral shows too many faults for me to say that he represents the Pope. He is clearly stuck in routines that don’t matter, he causes disturbances in the whole neighborhood for no worthy purpose, and he opens fire on the chimney sweeps believing that they’re bad guys when in fact they are not (this includes him even shooting at Mary). With these things in mind, it would be a difficult endeavor reconciling all these with the idea that he is the Pope.

      But you are free to disagree. I thank you for your input.

      • scarletworm says:

        There have been many flawed Popes. One of the marks of The Blessed Virgin Mary is her obedience. Pope Benedict has spent a great deal of time trying to correct some of the errors of Vatican II. For example, he changed the words of consecration back to “For you and for many.” instead of “For you and for all.” Thank you for your excellent reply- you clearly know your faith.

      • Remus says:

        Thank you for your kind reply. Yes, there have been some flawed Popes, but even with that, the Admiral seems like he’s too “off” to embody the Papacy itself. But that’s all I can say.

        By the way, the “For you and for all” phrase didn’t come from Vatican II (not from the V2 Documents at least). It did, however, come about under Paul VI’s pontificate shortly afterwards. If you haven’t checked it out already, I talk about the History of Vatican II while comparing it (of all things) to Star Wars in this post. If you’re interested that is (if you don’t like Star Wars, might not be your cup of tea).

        God Bless.

      • scarletworm says:

        Thanks Remus- I will look into it.

  29. Maureen says:

    Admiral Boom isn’t a bad character to compare Traditionalists too. He’s beloved. Having him in the neighborhood is a good thing.

    Of course some of his quirks are good or neutral; others are bad or dangerous. The same is true of Mr. Banks and Mrs. Banks, and pretty much all the non-practically-perfect characters in the movie. And if you want to read a book or interpret a movie as a satire, you’d better hope that everybody’s ox is gored… or something is wrong with the satire.

    Going to the EF is a perfectly normal Catholic thing to do, no matter how difficult some people make it. But some EF Catholics do have a defensiveness to them, as a result of their prior/current troubles, much like some old school English Catholics had back in Victorian times. Defensiveness has its drawbacks, which is why a lot of old school English Catholics didn’t like Newman, or all the new English and Irish Catholics, or anything at all that changed their world — even for the better.

    EF Catholics need to fight this kind of tendency, because it plays into their enemies’ hands. It also drives away their friends, or makes them work way too hard at being accepted.

    (And yeah, it gets tiresome when I wear a hat that my mom says makes me look way too much like my dead Catholic grandmother and great-grandmother going to Mass, and people at the EF Mass give me the hairy eyeball because I’m not wearing a 1962 novelty fashion veil. It’s not all that traditional when “the Mass of the Ages” looks more like the “Mad Men” or Kennedy Mass.)

    Anyway, examining one’s own character in the light of a Mary Poppins character is bound to make one smile as well as wince; and to take oneself less seriously is not to surrender, but to win. Admiral Boom is an admirable character for self-examination purposes.

    (She said, with the medieval Latin photocopies highlighted in ten colors sitting next to her.)

  30. Someone else pointed me to this…it appears our minds think alike. I just had a Mary Moment on the iPadre podcast that had to do with Mary Poppins and the Blessed Virgin. I love your analysis and will definitely be watching the movie in the future in a whole new light! Thanks for this!

  31. Rachelle says:

    Thank you for this! I’ve always loved Mary Poppins and look forward to watching it again with even greater relish. :)

  32. goldbloom says:

    Really enjoyed your post (as did my sister and my parents who were pleasantly amused). Please keep them coming.

    This is no thematic observation but if you look at the decor of the chimney’s mantelpiece you can kind of make out a line of Ichthus fish symbols in a row facing each other as a sort of mural.
    Observable around 1 hr 20 into the movie. Probably nothing to it but marginally uncanny considering your interpretation that the chimney is the spiritual/Christian life.

    • Remus says:

      That’s neat. Some people have said that the chimney analogy is one of the weakest parts in my argument for some reason, but your observation reassures me that I might not be too far off. Thanks for pointing that out.

  33. Beth says:

    Amazing commentary! I am a new Catholic and admittedly know nearly nothing about Marian teaching. I recently bought several books about Mary and started to read them, only to get bogged down to the point where I’ve stopped. But this has given me great encouragement. As a child, I watched Mary Poppins numerous times. I have to admit it did strike me as a strange story and I didn’t like parts of it, especially the parts where Mary Poppins seemed so stern. But the light you have given on even those parts has inspired me not only to watch the movie again, but more importantly to reflect on the reality of Mary and who she is to me. Thank you so much for your wonderful thoughts on this astonishing tale! Disney must’ve employed some brilliant Catholic writers!

    • Remus says:

      Thank you! That is one of the best compliments ever.

      Most of the inspirational things I’ve heard about Mary (that influenced all this) came from sermons I heard on a monastic retreat and from a Mariology course I took at my Catholic college. I guess St. Louis Marie De Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary” influenced me too (you might want to check that out if you haven’t already … it’s pretty intense). But I admit, it took me a long time to see what the big deal was about Mary. For a long time I felt like I was the only Catholic who “didn’t get it.” But a lot of converts can go through that (I’m definitely one of them).

      Thank you again for your kind words. God Bless.

  34. V says:

    Here’s some food for thought…
    Back when this movie was made, there were MANY Catholics in the movie business. Even at Disney, I bet. Even if the writer was not Catholic, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that you are more right about the symbolism than you know.

    • Remus says:

      Yeah, that’s true. There were a lot of Catholics in the movie industry back then. There actually still are (although they’re usually screwed up in some horrible way).

  35. Ed Young says:

    (from wikipedia) “According to Richard M. Sherman, co-writer of the song with his brother, Robert, the word was created by them in two weeks, mostly out of double-talk. (Based on the lawsuit below, what were they going to say?!?) The roots of the word have been defined as follows: super- “above”, cali- “beauty”, fragilistic- “delicate”, expiali- “to atone”, and docious- “educable”, with the sum of these parts signifying roughly “Atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” Although the word contains recognizable English morphemes, it does not follow the rules of English morphology as a whole. The morpheme -istic is a suffix in English, whereas the morpheme ex- is typically a prefix; so following normal English morphological rules, it would represent two words: supercalifragilistic and expialidocious. The pronunciation also leans towards it being two words since the letter c doesn’t normally sound like a k when followed by an e, an i or a y. According to the film, it is defined as “something to say when you have nothing to say”

    “In 1965, the song was the subject of an unsuccessful lawsuit by songwriters Gloria Parker and Barney Young against Wonderland Music, who published the version of the song from the Walt Disney film. The plaintiffs alleged that it was a copyright infringement of a 1951 song of their own called “Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus”. Also known as “The Super Song”, “Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus” was recorded by Alan Holmes and his New Tones on Columbia Records, vocal by Hal Marquess and the Holmes Men, music and lyrics by Patricia Smith (a Gloria Parker pen name). In addition, “Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus” was recorded on Gloro Records by The Arabian Knights. The Disney publishers won the lawsuit partially because affidavits were produced showing that “variants of the word were known … many years prior to 1949.”

    As it happens, may father, a hired gun for the studios, tried this case for Disney and its publisher, and we spent a lot of time talking about the variations of the word and its possible meanings. Its backstory is interesting, and obviously the Sherman brothers were well aware of the musical history that preceded them. It was my understanding at the time that the word had more Buddhist implications than Catholic ones; irrelevant inasmuch as Catholicism is descended from Buddhism in many ways – the robes, the incense, the chanting, the Lama/Pope, Abraham (originally Abram, a Brahmin?) coming from the crossroads of Chaldea, where Indian merchants traded goods (and culture) with middle easterners.

    I’m done. Great article. Brought back memories of the movie, and other things. Let me know when the Catholic church anoints female priests, cardinals and a woman Pope and ends their seemingly relentless war on women. Maybe “Eva” won’t be evil then. We have a long way to go, I’m afraid. “Blessed Be”

    • Remus says:

      Thank you for your comment. It was very interesting.

      I previously came upon that standard pseudo-definition of supercalifragalisticexpialidocious that you mentioned, namely “Atoning for educability through delicate beauty,” but I found it unsatisfying because (in addition to it not making much sense) “cali” does NOT translate into “beauty” in Latin, based on the multiple Latin dictionaries I’ve checked. It resembles the Greek word for beauty (kind of), but it would then seem incongruent to have all the other roots be in Latin. Hence, I found it appropriate to treat “cali” as a Latin root, and without doubt the closest Latin word it resembles is “calix” (chalice). But I’m no Classicist, so I am willing to be corrected on any part of this.

      “It was my understanding at the time that the word had more Buddhist implications than Catholic ones; irrelevant inasmuch as Catholicism is descended from Buddhism in many ways – the robes, the incense, the chanting, the Lama/Pope, Abraham (originally Abram, a Brahmin?) coming from the crossroads of Chaldea, where Indian merchants traded goods (and culture) with middle easterners.”

      I don’t doubt that Buddhism influenced Catholic rituals in some way, and I don’t have a problem with that. That doesn’t imply, however, that they are the same, of course, nor does it deny that Catholicism has things that Buddhism does not. I would however say that Catholicism is certainly much more influenced by Jewish traditions that predate Buddhism. Furthermore, the position of the Dalai Lama (correct me if I’m wrong) was only instituted about 600 years ago, in contrast to the position of the Catholic Pope which is much older (dating to 1st century … most historians would at least admit the 3rd or so). Hence, I would respectfully disagree that it’s “irrelevant” whether supercal has more Buddhist or Catholic implications, even if the latter descended from the former … the two would still be different/distinct.

      “Let me know when the Catholic church anoints female priests, cardinals and a woman Pope and ends their seemingly relentless war on women.”

      I used to have sympathy for the idea that Catholicism hated women. But after innumerable women told me that no such hatred existed in the Church and that a female priesthood/papacy would be wrong, I wasn’t on edge about that anymore. I’m no expert on the subject, and I honestly don’t know the arguments in favor of female priests in any detail (once again, because most/all Catholic women I’ve met are against it). At the very least, I can’t see how banning women from a particular group necessarily implies a hatred of women. That needs to be flushed out for me.

      Thank you for your kind words. God Bless.

  36. Jamie says:

    Wow. Mind blown. And I’m only to Uncle Albert. I’ll finish sometime soon…

    I’ve had Mary Poppins on the brain a lot recently. I was looking for a Google image of MP’s measuring tape, and whadaya know, yours was the only one I found. (When I began reading, I thought it sounded strangely like the Star Wars analysis I read a few months ago… haha.) I’ve always loved the movie, but I think I’ll love it even more now. I’m amazed at all the specific details you’ve pulled out of it!

  37. Rege says:

    This is a funny and clever article, but it mixes contrived allegory with content in the movie that is actually, and almost certainly intentionally, Catholic. I don’t know whether the filmmakers were Anglo-Catholic or Roman Catholic, but some of the religious symbolism is fairly overt. For example, the running theme of opposing the two cathedrals — the bank, (the house of Mammon) with St. Paul’s (significantly, not Westminster), the Anglo-Catholic house of God. Moreover, the film’s messages — as Remus points out — are staples of Catholic social teaching. I remember watching “Mary Poppins” for the first time as an adult, in college, and it was like an epiphany to me. It actually spurred my Catholic intellectual development. Subsequent viewings have revealed additional details.

    It’s not just me (and Remus) who see the Catholic subtext of the movie. I remember watching it with a group of Catholic friends years ago (most of whom hadn’t seen the film since they were children), and they had great fun making light of my understanding of the movie — until an older gentleman — a convert with a Harvard PhD who we all referred to as “the smartest man in the world” — calmly pointed out a number of Catholic references in the movie, including some that even Remus didn’t pick up on.

    Whether one sees or misses the Catholic elements of “Mary Poppins,” I think that watching it can’t help but make one a better Catholic. Thanks, Remus, for giving us Catholics an impetus to view the movie again with greater attention to its messages.

  38. Kathleen Gomes says:

    I loved reading through this post, it helped me make connections I never would have though of while watching the movie. To anyone who is interested, I recommend a brilliant journal article written by Vincent Rocchio “Mary Poppins and the Dialogic Imagination of Christianity.”

  39. Pingback: Doctor Who and the Eucharist |

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