Mary, Mother of Our Lord

(chapter 11 from my book: Eyes to See, The Surprise of Becoming Catholic!)


And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Luke 1:42-44

Except for salvation, there is no single Catholic teaching more troublesome to Protestants than the veneration of Mary. I did not feel any differently than most Protestants. I had been taught from the very beginning of my Christian walk that Catholics worship Mary; that all the time and effort they spend talking to her, praying endless Rosaries, and participating in pilgrimages to Marian shrines, was all time and effort that should have been spent worshiping Jesus.

Through my studies up to this point I had begun to see not only good sense, but also a compelling cohesiveness in the fabric of Catholic doctrine. At the same time, Catholic teachings on Mary represented an insurmountable obstacle to my ever fully embracing the Catholic faith. I had read, talked, and prayed my way most of the way into the Catholic Church, and all along the way I had been surprised at how wrong Protestants were about many things. I was willing to be docile, to listen to what the Church teaches through the Doctors, Fathers, Saints, Popes and Magisterium; but I was not going to become an idol worshiper! I Catholics had been misled into a devious form of idol worship, my job as a Christian was certainly not to join them in that idol worship, but to lead them out of it.

I was spending a lot of time thinking about these things. And then it happened again, I could see something which ought not be, but which turned into another great Catholic surprise; and it mystified me. As I observed those Catholics who were the strongest advocates for the sanctity of human life I found they were invariably also the Catholics most likely to practice a lively Marian piety. To meet a pro-life Catholic—one who grasps the horror of abortion on demand, the potential nightmare of euthanasia, the carnage of legal experimentation on the embryo produced in a Petri dish—is almost always to meet a Marian Catholic. For example, Mother Theresa and John Paul II, two of the most powerful advocates for human life that the 20th century brought forth, were both profoundly Marian. I began to wonder if there weren’t something about honoring Jesus’ Mother which gave these people a deeper insight into the mystery of human life than anyone on the Protestant side of the fence. No, God! Let it not be so! I was convinced: I would never understand this.

Mary: Second Eve

I happened upon a little booklet of the writings of John Henry Newman on Mary.[1] Newman, who, as a Protestant interested in the Catholic Church, had struggled long and hard with the excesses of Marian piety as they seemed to exist, especially in Latin piety, was eventually convinced by the testimony of the early Church Fathers that the Marian dogmas were nonetheless true. Newman points out that central Marian doctrines appear consistently in the writings of three different Church Fathers of the second century: Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus. Mary is the second Eve (all three Fathers), her obedience undid Eve’s disobedience (Justin), blotted it out (Tertullian) and unloosed its knot (Irenaeus). Newman was struck by the consistency of these three thinkers, who, not long after the death of the Apostles, lived at quite a distance from one another on three different continents. Newman’s logic said this commonality was best explained by the existence of a common source: the Apostles themselves.

St. Justin:

We know that He, before all creatures, proceeded from the Father by His power and will . . . and by means of the Virgin became man, that by what way the disobedience arising from the serpent had its beginning, by that way also it might have an undoing. For Eve, being a virgin and undefiled, conceiving the word that was from the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death; but the Virgin Mary, taking faith and joy, when the Angel told her the good tidings, that the Spirit of the Lord should come upon her and the power of the Highest overshadow her, and therefore the Holy One that was born of her was Son of God, answered, ‘Be it to me according to Thy word.’[2]


Tertullian:


God recovered His image and likeness, which the devil had seized, by a rival operation. For into Eve, as yet a virgin, had crept the word which was the framer of death. Equally into a virgin was to be introduced the Word of God which was the builder-up of life; that, what by that sex had gone into perdition, by the same sex might be brought back to salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel; the fault which the one committed by believing, the other by believing has blotted out.
[3]

St. Irenaeus:

. . . Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, ‘Behold Thy handmaid, 0 Lord; be it to me according to Thy word.’ But Eve was disobedient; for she obeyed not . . . becoming disobedient, became the cause of death both to herself and to the whole human race, so also Mary, having the predestined man, and . . . being obedient, became both to herself and to the whole human race the cause of salvation.

And so the knot of Eye’s disobedience received its unloosing through the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, bound by incredulity, that Mary, unloosed by faith.[4]

Newman provides the following insight:


For a moment put aside St. Irenaeus, and put together St. Justin in the East with Tertullian in the West. I think I may assume that the doctrine of these two Fathers about the Blessed Virgin, was the received doctrine of their own respective times and places; for writers after all are but witnesses of facts and beliefs, and as such they are treated by all parties in controversial discussion. Moreover, the coincidence of doctrine which they exhibit, and again, the antithetical completeness of it, show that they themselves did not originate it. The next question is, Who did? for from one definite organ or source, place or person, it must have come. Then we must inquire, what length of time would it take for such a doctrine to have extended, and to be received, in the second century over so wide an area; that is, to be received before the year 200 in Palestine, Africa, and Rome. Can we refer the common source of these local traditions to a date later than that of the Apostles, St. John dying within thirty or forty years of St. Justin’s conversion and Tertullian’s birth? Make what allowance you will for whatever possible exceptions can be taken to this representation; and then, after doing so, add to the concordant testimony of these two Fathers the evidence of St. Irenaeus, which is so close upon the School of St. John himself in Asia Minor. “A three-fold cord’, as the wise man says, ‘is not quickly broken . . . .’
[5]

Like Newman, I was surprised that the Fathers of the second century—three of the “biggies”—would have such a Catholic view of Mary and would deem her role in salvation to be so significant and central. These three Fathers lived far apart, on three continents at a time when there were no conferences or workshops for exchanging their views.

I had been told for years that such Marian doctrines were pagan accretions, gradually added to Christianity from the time when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. Finding such teachings on Mary so early in the record, long before Constantine, was devastating to the view that saw the early Church as more Protestant than Catholic. Newman’s logic could not be easily dismissed.

I eventually began to consider coming to the same conclusion as Newman:

I fully grant that devotion towards the Blessed Virgin has increased among Catholics with the progress of centuries; I do not allow that the doctrine concerning her has undergone a growth, for I believe that it has been in substance one and the same from the beginning.[6] (emphasis added)

I had to ask, what about the Scriptures? One of the most central passages in all of Scripture foretells Mary’s role in the salvation story. After The Fall, God curses the serpent, and then goes on to promise and predict:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.[7]

This is one of the most theologically potent passages in the whole Bible. It is imbedded in what is often called, by Evangelicals and Catholics alike, the proto-Evangelium. This can be seen as the DNA of the gospel, the gospel in a nut-shell, as it were. God foretells enmity between the Savior’s mother and His enemy. The role of Mary, so it would appear, could, in fact, be more central than Protestants said, and her parallel to Eve could be wrought with more meaning.

Mary: Ever-virgin

Evangelical Protestants are quite adamant about Christ being born of a virgin; but they object to the idea that Mary remained a virgin. “He had brothers; it says so in the Bible!” they trumpet triumphantly, whenever the ever-virgin doctrine is proposed.

To begin with, to be completely literal, which every good Evangelical insists on: if they are brothers at all, they are “step-brothers,” because none of them had the same father as Jesus.

Furthermore, there is only one word in Aramaic for male relative. Thus, the same word used for the brothers of the Lord, when rendered in Greek—Adelphos—is used to describe, for example, the familial relationship of Abraham and Lot.[8] Similarly, Jacob is called the “brother” of his uncle Laban (Gen. 29:15). I hadn’t known this, and I had always jumped to the same conclusions that all of the anti-Catholic apologists jump to. Now I wasn’t so sure.

Mary is the woman by whom, or, better, through whom and with whom God “fathered” His only begotten Son. This was an immensely striking thought. In any human culture and especially in the Hebrew culture, to speak of “fathering” a child is to speak of a special relationship between father and mother. It is, of course, a spousal relationship. I began to see that calling Mary the Spouse of the Holy Spirit is a most appropriate way to describe her relationship to God.[9] Without it she becomes a sort of surrogate mother whose womb God borrows for nine months, but who, after giving birth is then not treated by the Father as if she were really the Mother of His only Son. I began to see that the Protestant view of Mary fosters precisely this surrogate mother view, which has the effect of diminishing Christ’s humanity. I could see that you need a real mother and a real father to have a real child. Jesus’ humanity and all that it means becomes less real if Mary’s relationship to God is, to put it bluntly, a “one-night stand.” As I pondered these things, the star of Mary’s uniqueness began to radiate more brilliantly in my theological sky.

I meditated on the whole thing from Joseph’s point of view. If I were Joseph and this woman to whom I was betrothed had a baby by the Living God, would I pursue the normal spousal relationship of husband-and-wife once the baby was born? God the Father, who had been, in a sense, “with” Mary (though not sexually). There had been no severing of that “spousal” relationship by death or divorce. It began to be clear: if I were Joseph I would not pursue relations with Mary. She belongs to someone else; as far as conjugal intimacy goes, she is off limits. She is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Taking offense at this idea began to seem the same as taking offense at the Incarnation itself.

Furthermore, Jesus, from His horrible Cross, entrusts Mary to His disciple John. I had never asked myself what ramifications that would have, if Jesus had brothers and sisters. While He was dying for them on the Cross, would Jesus go out of his way to insult his blood relatives by entrusting his mother to some one not named Ben Joseph?[10] I began to think maybe He would not. This alone did not prove Mary’s ever-virginity, but it surely lent some additional weight to the idea.

Thus the notion that Mary remained a virgin became one viable explanation of the biblical and historical data. When I found out that not only Luther and Calvin held to it but also John Wesley, my willingness to believe the doctrine of Ever-virgin was further strengthened.

Mary: Mother of God

I began to spend time considering the ramifications of Mary being the Mother of God. The title, Mother of God, which Catholics gladly employ when referring to Mary, is irksome to Protestants. Many of them would prefer that she be identified as the Mother of Christ, but not the Mother of God. However, this initiates real Christological problems, and they are not minor. You cannot divide the person of Jesus and make Mary the mother of one part and not the other. Jesus is fully God and fully man, not 50/50. You can’t peel one part off from the other; they are united.[11] Opponents of the Marian Mother of God title are almost always unaware of Nestorianism, a fifth century teaching that claimed Jesus was actually two persons, with Mary being the mother of only one of them. The Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorianism in 431 A.D., and taught that Christ is one person with two natures, divine and human. He is not two persons. The same council affirmed the Marian title: Theotokos, i.e. Bearer of God. I could now see this was necessary. The doctrine of Theotokos held the Christological one, “fully God, fully man” in place. This was not quibbling over some minor issue: Nestorianism would have destroyed the Trinity. The Marian title, Theotokos, played not only an integral role, but a necessary one in the conciliar defense of orthodoxy. God became man at the moment of Jesus’ conception, not at his birth, nor at His Baptism. He was God in His mothers’ womb. Thus, she is rightly called the Mother of God. It began to seem appropriate, even necessary, to use this particular title for Mary. It acted as a guarantor of orthodoxy.

What did the Scriptures say? After the Annunciation, Mary honors her relative, Elizabeth, with a visit. Each woman is pregnant with, respectively, Jesus the Lord, and John the Baptist. Elizabeth, makes it very clear that it is she, Elizabeth, who should honor Mary, not vice-versa. She asks, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”[12] (emphasis added) The challenging question surfaces: If Elizabeth honors Mary with this title, why should the Church not do so as well?

The Holy Scriptures and the Fathers support honoring Mary with the title Mother of God. So did Martin Luther, who recognized the damage done to Christology if this title is withheld from her.

God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary’s Son, and that Mary is God’s mother . . . She is the true mother of God and bearer of God . . . Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus, not two Christs . . . just as your son is not two sons . . . even though he has two natures, body and soul, the body from you, the soul from God alone.[13]

 

Mary: Immaculately Conceived

I began to read a great deal on the subject of Mary: on line, in evangelical books, in Catholic books, in every source I could find. I found that one of the most hotly disputed Catholic doctrines is Mary’s Immaculate Conception, the understanding that Mary, from the moment of her conception, was kept free from the stain of original sin.

The Immaculate Conception was dogmatically defined in 1854, by Pope Pius IX:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.[14]

Protestants make much of the fact that this dogma is not explicitly spelled out in the Scriptures. Furthermore, they argue, this particular dogmatic definition comes late in the game, some 1,800 years after the fact. Resistance is further fueled by the fact that not all Fathers and Doctors of the Church have been in complete agreement with the dogma as stated in its definition.

All of these concerns are based upon facts, to be sure. But none of them are quite what Protestants think they are. For example: some Fathers and Doctors disagreed about when the stain of original sin was removed from Mary’s soul: Did it occur at her conception or at the time of what the ancients called her “quickening”, or at her birth? This disagreement is not a problem for the Fathers and Doctors were in near unanimous agreement about the most important aspect of the dogma: Mary’s sanctity is unique. And when I thought about it, the belief that her sanctity was unique was more crucial than the question of when it became so.

I was surprised to discover that Luther in 1522 boldly asserted basically the same doctrine as the papal dogmatic definition which came three centuries later. Luther wrote:

It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.[15]

 

So widely accepted was the dogma, more than three hundred years before its definition that Martin Luther speaks of it as an uncontroversial belief, to be held piously and even sweetly. Did he later recant? Possibly, he changed his mind on lots of things, more than once. The fact remains he once believed it and quite firmly, even five years after the posting of the 95 theses.

“Fathers and Doctors err”, the Protestant chimes in, “and even Martin Luther errs—at least this once—but the Scriptures do not.

One verse in which Protestants find support for denying the Immacualte Conception was written by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[16] Protestants ask: what is it about the word all that Catholics do not understand? Mary was a sinner just like everyone else.

Did I want to make my reading of the word “all” to mean always without exception? And, to allow for a purely literal interpretation, wouldn’t Paul have had to say, “All have sinned, except for Jesus?” Because he didn’t say that, must we therefore assume that Jesus sinned? Shouldn’t Paul have mentioned the one exception?

Furthermore, can “all” in this Scripture passage be so interpreted absolutely without perpetrating violence upon other passages that use the same word in the same way? In passages quite similar to the Romans 3:23 passage, Paul says: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned–“[17] and 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For, as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Paul does not know about Elijah? Enoch? Possibly Moses?[18] None of them succumbed to physical death but were taken bodily into heaven. No exceptions to “all”? Ever?

I began to see that it was at least possible that Paul’s use of all is a qualified one, i.e. one which makes room for qualified exceptions, for the Lord Himself, and also for His Mother. Augustine emphatically demands this very exception be made for Mary and does so with a tone that implies that the whole Church believes the same and always has.

Having excepted the Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when speaking of sins—for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her . . . —so I say with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women and asked them whether they were without sin . . . would it be as Pelagius says or as the Apostle John . . . if they had been so questioned, would they not have declared in a single voice: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us![19]

Augustine’s teacher, Ambrose, writing in the late 300’s agrees.

. . . Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin.[20]

No one can stand before a holy God without grace. Perhaps the point of the Romans 3:24 passage is that all stand in need of grace.[21] Catholics teach that Mary’s sanctity is unique, yes, and it is also a gift given through grace! She needed God just as the rest of us do. Grace acts on her differently only in that it acts preemptively, ahead of time, as it were; nonetheless, her sanctity is by grace, just as all other human sanctity is. So, the dogma “Immaculately Conceived” is not really an exception to “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” but rather, in a sense, a unique fulfillment.

Opponents of the doctrine lose credibility when they invoke Thomas Aquinas and his supposed opposition to it. Even if Thomas’s teaching conflicted with “conceived without sin”—which is not necessarily the case—when the dogma was declared, he would have recanted his position, because he believed in the authority of the Church to speak on such issues. Thomas’ issue was resolved when, through the work of John Duns Scotus, it was shown that Mary’s unique sanctity was in fact the work of Christ.

Because of the Immaculate Conception, Protestants like to assert: “Catholics see Mary as some kind of God, and not as the simply human mother she was. No one is without sin except God Himself.”

Is that true? To attribute sinlessness, purity, or innocence to an individual is to claim deity for them? Adam and Eve were certainly without sin until The Fall. Believing that is not tantamount to deifying our first parents. When we are perfected in heaven we will be without sin. Does that make us into a God? Is this deification of divinization?

Also: there is a paradox at work! It is true that sin is common to man. But, when we sin we become less human. That day in the future, when we experience freedom from sin, will be the same day that we are most completely human, and every step along the way towards that perfection here on earth represents a process of becoming more human, not less. The person who has learned to love his neighbor as himself, even if his practice of that love is riddled with imperfections, is more human than the man who has refused to have anything to do with such love. So, it does not follow that to believe Mary is without sin is make her to like God, i.e. less human, but rather Mary without sin is the most human of humans: most humble, most docile, most fragile, most vulnerable to suffering, and most loving.

The complete sanctification which we are given in heaven, she was given in advance, by grace, in order to become the Mother of God’s only Son. She is the one human being, except for the God-man, who turned out exactly as she was always supposed to, i.e. perfectly human. The normal human detour through the pit of sin was, in her case, circumvented, ultimately by the power of her Son’s salvific work on the Cross and the grace that flows from it. She was perfectly human, and by grace, she was preserved from the horrible stain of original sin.

I began to ponder the moment of the Incarnation: Mary’s “yes” to the angel, which Catholics call her fiat. Never in the Scriptures did an angel ever treat a human as Gabriel treated Mary, “Hail, highly favored (graced) one, the Lord is with you!”[22] Clearly the archangel is in awe of this woman who is called “handmaid of the Lord.” Further scriptural evidence for her special status was once again provided by the ancient promise in the proto-evangelium found in Genesis 3. God curses the serpent with an adversary: the woman who bears the seed, “I will put enmity between you and the woman . . . ”[23] This enmity, this opposition between the great Destroyer and the Bearer of the Promised Seed means she has nothing to do with him. She and he are opposed, completely opposed: they are enemies.

Recently, I was struck with the vivid depiction of this opposition in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. As Mary’s Son begins the horrific torture of carrying His own Cross to Golgotha, Mary and Satan are seen on opposite sides of the route, staring at each other as they follow along. In Gibson’s portrayal it is obvious that Satan has no power over Mary, and never has; their opposition, their enmity, is absolute, just as God promised in Genesis 3:15. Protestants like the movie, but they can’t see the clarity of the Immaculate Conception in it.

I began to understand that the Marian dogmas serve one purpose and one purpose alone: Christology. The truths about Mary serve not only to preserve and protect, but also to elucidate and illuminate the teachings about Jesus. They keep our view of Jesus from dissolving into a Christ who is not only less God but less human; a Christ who is less of a Savior. My observation of the non-Catholic world began to affirm the reason for Catholic tenacity about the Marian dogmas: lose Mary with the fullness of Catholic teaching about her, and eventually you start to lose the fullness of Christ.

Mary: Assumed into Heaven

The Marian dogma most recently promulgated, in 1950, by Pius XII, Mary Crowned in Heaven, was by now no longer difficult. I could see that the Scriptures description of the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head . . . who gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter,”[24] was the other bookend to the woman in the proto-Evangelium of Genesis 3. While the apocalyptic language of Revelation certainly allows for the woman to represent more than one thing, clearly Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is the primary image; she is crowned, and she is in heaven. One must keep in mind it is the Apostle John who is writing, late in his life; the same John who took into his own home the woman whose maternal womb not only carried God into the world, but provided His human flesh, His very genetic code. Her face as she smiled, her hand as she gestured, and the inflection of her voice when she spoke; these would have been a daily reminder, a fleshly icon to John of the humanity of this Lord whom he loved, whom he saw die on the Cross, whom he saw and touched and knew to be resurrected from the dead. Of all the Apostles to have a vision of a woman who gives birth to the Messiah, John is the one could never put that vision into writing without having Mary in mind. It is not possible.

The Church has always celebrated her Assumption as something it knows in its soul to be true. Everywhere in ancient Christianity—East and West—there is the belief, joyously celebrated, that she was received bodily into heaven.

Furthermore, though the early Church unabashedly honored the relics of the Apostles and first martyrs, no-one anywhere ever claimed to be in possession of Mary’s relics. No church is said to be built upon them, and no shrine was erected to honor them.

The True Ark of the Covenant

Lastly, John’s description of the Woman in Revelation 12, if the flow of the text from the preceding chapter is allowed, as it should be, reads:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars . . .[25]

In the Old Testament the Word of God was written on stone and carried in a wooden vessel called the Ark of the Covenant. In the New Covenant the Word of God became human and was carried by a human vessel, even more properly called the Ark of the Covenant. John tells us this human Ark is in heaven, in the temple, clothed with the sun and crowned with stars. The Ark is Mary, Queen of Heaven.

The Rosary

In 1999 I read a book by David Currie called Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic[26]. This story of his conversion to the Catholic faith fascinated me, but frightened me as well. David is a Trinity College graduate, class of 1973, who later spent some time studying at the TEDS seminary. He comes from a family of Moody Bible Institute fundamentalists. When David and his wife came into the Church they were ostracized by their families and friends—to the point that they likened the beginning of their Catholic walk to a government witness protection program. David gives some very good explanations in his book, especially about the incarnational underpinnings of sacramental thinking. Catholic worship involves the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. This reflects the profound “yes!” to humanity which God spoke, explicitly, when He created mankind in His own image and likeness, and implicitly, when His only begotten Son took on flesh—human flesh, the flesh of Mary.

At one point I called David, and we began to spend time together, on the phone and at restaurants. What he said made sense. He was gracious enough to accompany me throughout the rest of my journey, for which I am eternally grateful.

One day David gave me a Rosary. A non-Evangelical cannot understand how absolutely bizarre it was for me, an Evangelical, to even hold a Rosary. Everything you have been taught screams against it. The prayers are repeated; you are not supposed to do that! Most of the repetition involves the Hail Mary, a prayer spoken to Mary; you are certainly not supposed to do that! They do that, those Catholics, and you aren’t supposed to do what they do! The idea of an Evangelical praying the Rosary makes all of those Calvinists who have insisted you cannot lose your salvation suddenly start suggesting maybe you can!

I had heard many an Evangelical speak scornfully of their grandmother or grandfather refusing to give up those “traditions of men”, praying this silly Rosary on their deathbed, more or less signing their eternal death warrant. Such critics would say things such as, “He who has faith in a dead saint and in the dead traditions of man surely cannot at the same time possess saving faith in God.”

Further arguments against the Rosary piled up as a dear Evangelical friend of mine argued against “praying your beads”: the priests of Islam also have beads, and you aren’t supposed to do anything that they do!

David gave me a Rosary made of bright blue and white plastic which had been “blessed by the Pope”—whatever that meant! It felt as if it steamed and sizzled in my hand. The thought of it being there in my pocket when I drove back to Trinity made my heart beat faster. I felt as if those Trinity students could see it right through my coat. Later, at home, in the basement where no one could see me, I got it out along with a book about the Rosary and began to pray. All of the prayers were rich in Scripture, and all of the meditations were on the life of Christ. I began to look forward to my prayer time. I began to experience a renewed sense of Jesus’ presence in my prayer life.

I began to pray the Rosary regularly. Now, years later, I can say, outside the Mass, there is nothing that more dependably brings me into an awareness of who Christ is than the discipline of the Rosary. The quietness of the repetitions sets just the right tone to think deeply about Jesus, about His incarnation, His suffering and His everlasting glory! When I pray the sorrowful mysteries, on Tuesdays and Fridays, I can’t help but think of what it would feel like if the person up there on that gruesome Cross were one of my own children. Nothing has led me into deeper emotional contact with Christ’s suffering than praying through the eyes of Mary with the Rosary.

I had been deeply indoctrinated into the notion that Catholics worship Mary. However, as my vision cleared so I could see the glory of worship in the Catholic Mass, the accusation that Catholics worship Mary gradually began to seem not only untrue, but absurd. The liturgy of the Mass is the pinnacle of Catholic worship. It is absolutely God-centered, Trinity-centered, and Christ-centered. At Mass Mary plays no central role whatsoever. Yes, there is one optional prayer in which her intercession is solicited: the Confiteor. In it Mary’s prayers are petitioned, but so are those of the Apostles and Saints and even those of the people sitting there in church.[27] Yes, her name is in the Nicene Creed: “By the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man”. Yes, on January 1, August 15 and December 8[28] more attention is paid to her role in the salvation story, but aside from that she is a minor figure in the daily and weekly celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass: which is what the Catholic Church considers the pinnacle of its worship.

There is not a worship service on the earth which more completely and utterly focuses on Christ and His sacrifice than the Mass. For the Protestant, the content of worship is, at least outwardly, limited to singing songs and hearing a sermon, so when they hear Catholics sing a hymn to Mary, they suspect she is being worshipped. But Catholics know, when they sing Marian songs or seek Mary’s intercession, they are not making her into a Goddess to be worshipped, but rather seeking the aid of a powerful advocate and ally.

I eventually became convinced that the Catholic beliefs about Mary are in fact not only true, but function as a necessary protector and guarantor of the central Christological truths. Wherever Marian piety is miniaturized or eliminated, the hypostatic union—fully God/fully man—begins to crumble. This results, on the one hand, in the squishy relativism of Protestant liberalism, or, on the other hand, in the rough, edgy, tomboyish hardness of fundamentalism/evangelicalism. Both are lopsided. Of course they are! You cannot exclude the Mother and expect to fully know the whole Son.

In the years since becoming Catholic, the recognition that Mary is Our Mother has grown. It bears fruit in my life and in our family’s life. She is in fact the most powerful heavenly intercessor. To pray with her, especially through the Rosary, is to be brought into a whole different realm of experiencing wonder and awe, of knowing the power of the Cross and Resurrection and of growing in the personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Visions and Apparitions

The 19th and 20th centuries have seen more war and destruction than all preceding centuries combined. It has also been a time marked by dramatic increase in Marian apparitions. Two of these began to interest me: Lourdes and Fatima. They are both meticulously documented, and each of them was accompanied by numerous healings which allow for no natural explanation. The visionaries in both apparitions were simple children whose lives became saturated with heavenly holiness and love. The effects of both apparitions have lasted into the present; healings and conversion still take place because of them. The non-Catholic world has no explanation for these apparitions, and for the most part ignores them.

The visions of St. Bernadette, which took place in a remote grotto just outside the little hamlet of Lourdes, France, in 1858, were accompanied by the appearance of a spring of fresh water at the apparition site. Literally hundreds of bona fide healings have taken place in those waters: healings of terminal cancers and tumors, blindness, paralysis, which skeptical medical boards have confirmed as medically inexplicable.

St. Bernadette, the seer of Lourdes, died some twenty years after the apparitions. Her body has remained completely incorruptible to this day. Amazing.

The apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, which took place over a period of six months in 1917, were given to three very young children: Jacinta Martos, Francisco Martos, and Lucy Dos Santos. These seers were, respectively, seven, nine and ten years old at the time. The apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in Fatima were, like the visions at Lourdes, accompanied by well substantiated miracles, and the most salient feature of the Fatima apparitions was the insistence of Christ’s Mother on mankind’s heartfelt repentance and reparation for sin. Stunning prophecies about world politics, particularly relating to Russia and the spread of Communism, and regarding a future of the Papacy were also given. Francisco and Jacinta died soon after the apparitions, and Lucy lived until quite recently. The visions of Fatima were accompanied by many signs and wonders, not least of which was a series of remarkable phenomena with the sun which were witnessed by at least 50,000 people, a large number of whom were skeptics. People located as many as thirty miles away from the apparitions saw the signs.

To study the lives of these peasant youngsters and to consider what they went through, especially their deaths, is to be humbled by the power of God. It is not possible to read the accounts of Fatima with any sort of open mind and discount the hand of God in them. The occurrences surrounding them are undeniably supernatural.

Conclusion

The teachings of the Church on worship, on the Eucharist, on salvation, etc. had all born the weight of my scrutiny. If there were issues regarding Mary that did not yet square with my own mindset, perhaps I was wrong, and the Catholic Church was right. The possibility opened up in my mind of simply accepting the teachings, not based on my own authority, but based upon the authority vested in the Church to teach, protected by the promises that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church into all truth, and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church built upon the Rock.

I write these words in 2005, some seven years after our conversion to Catholicism. The Marian dogmas all make perfect sense to me now. I can see how they work together with the other dogmas of the Church, to provide freedom, largesse, and wonder to my walk. Neither my appreciation for the Blessed Mother of Our Lord nor my relationship with her have hindered my devotion to, nor my worship of Jesus Christ. To the contrary, my devotional life has never been stronger, more consistent, or more fruitful than it is since becoming Catholic. Thank you Mary, Mother of Our Lord!

After a break of many years, in 2003, I began writing songs again. This is the text to a song called Mother Mary. Mary functions as a guarantor that our faith will remain supernatural: the draw if this world will not supplant the purposes of that world, where she lives with her Son. Where she is honored, where her prayers are solicited, the miracle of the Incarnation remains central.

Mother Mary

Mother Mary Queen of Heaven,

Pray for us that we might leaven this world with that world

You were there at your Son’s Cross,

Pray that we’ll not fear the loss of this world for that world

You told the angel, “Let God’s will be done to me”,

Your “yes” undid Eve’s “no” to the Word of God.

We must consider; you are the source of Christ’s humanity,

Through you God crushed the foe of the Word of God.

The Word of God, through you became the Son of Man,

The Word of God, born as a baby in Bethlehem

The Word of God, the Word of God,

the Word through you became man.

Blessed Mary ever virgin,

Pray for us that we might forge in this world that world.

Mother of the Truth, the Light,

Pray that we might fight the fight for this world through that world

You told the angel, “let God’s will be done to me “,

Your “yes” undid Eve’s “no” to the Word of God.

We must consider, you are the source of Christ’s humanity,

Through you God crushed the foe of the Word of God.

The Word of God, through you became this world’s precious light

The Word of God, born as a babe in the middle of the night

The Word of God, the Word of God,

the Word through you became man.

Mother of redeemed mankind,

Pray for us that we for us that we might find in this world that world.

Mother of the King of Kings,

Pray that we’ll deny the things of this world for that world

The Word of God, the Word of God,

The Word of God became man.



[1] Eileen Breen, Mary: the Second EveJohn Henry Newman. (Rockford Illinois, Tan Books, 1992)

[2] ibid., p.3

[3] ibid. p. 3

[4] ibid. p. 4

[5] ibid. p.4-6

[6] ibid. p.1

[7] Genesis 3:15

[8] Genesis 13:8 (NIV) So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.

[9] It should be emphasized, calling Mary the Spouse of the Holy Spirit does not in any way imply that Catholics believe there is a sexual relationship involved. Quite to the contrary, Catholics believe Mary was and still is a virgin. That does not change the fact that God fathered a child by her.

[10] Hebrew: son of Joseph

[11] This is called the hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, in one person, the second person of the triune Godhead.

[12] Luke 1:42-44 see also 2 Samuel 6:9b

[13] Luther, Martin (On the Councils and the Church, 1539) cited at http://web.archive.org/web/20030602022654/ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ95.HTM

[14] Pius X Ineffabilis Deus. Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07674d.htm

[15] Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” December [?] 1527; from Hartmann Grisar, S.J., Luther, authorised translation from the German by E.M. Lamond; edited by Luigi Cappadelta, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, first edition, 1915, Vol. IV [of 6], p. 238; taken from the German Luther Werke, Erlangen, 1826-1868, edited by J.G. Plochmann and J.A. Irmischer, 2nd ed. edited by L. Enders, Frankfurt, 1862 ff., 67 volumes; citation from 152, p. 58).Cited at http://web.archive.org/web/20030602022654/ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ95.HTM

[16] Romans 3:23

[17] 1 Corinthians 15:22

[18] Enoch and Elijah were clearly taken bodily into heaven. Moses appears with Elijah at the Transfiguration. This lends weight to his being received bodily into heaven. Whether he was bodily received into heaven or not is not important for my purposes here, because Elijah certainly was, and one exception suffices to make the point.

[19] St. Augustine in Nature and Grace {31, 35} in Jurgens The Faith of the Early Fathers Vol.3 # 1795

[20] St. Ambrose Commentary on Psalm 118{22,30}. in Jurgens The Faith of the Early Fathers Vol.2 #1314

[21] Romans 3:20 For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, 22: the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; 23: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24: they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25: whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; 26: it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

[22] Modern translations almost all use “highly favored one” instead of the older “full of grace”. A treatment of the Greek and its proper translation would go beyond the scope of this book. Suffice to say, a good case can be made for translating it “full of grace.” However it should not appear that I am basing my faith in a doctrine so deeply troubling to most Protestants based solely on a translation which they deem erroneous.

[23] Genesis 3:15

[24] Revelation 12:1-5

[25] Revelation 11:19- 12:1

[26] David Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic.(San Francisco. Ignatius Press. 1999)

[27] The Confiteor: I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever Virgin, and all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God. Amen.

[28] respectively the Marian feast days: Queen of Heaven, the Assumption and The Immaculate Conception

2 Responses to “Mary, Mother of Our Lord”

  1. gianni Says:

    3 osservazioni:
    1- fratelli di Gesù- Oggi molti cattolici sostengono, sulle orme di Girolamo che in aramaico il termine fratello veniva talvolta usato per cugino carnale. Il che puo essere anche vero; ma non ha nulla a che vedere con il caso in questione. I Vangeli , infatti, ci sono giunti in greco, e non in aramaico, e in greco, anche etimologicamente, il termine adelphos, ha sempre il valore di fratello. ( nato dallo stesso grembo)
    2- Genesi 3,15 rivedere traduzione
    3- Lc.1:26-29 traduzione . in grazia di Dio…………
    Mi corregga se sbaglio ! Le darò delucidfazioni più approfondite.
    Gianni


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