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Hail Mary, Full of Grace…And Controversy.

posted by abowen

My wife, a fairly liberal Christian, is reading a novel called “My Son, the Savior” by Melody Carlson. The book is a fictional account of the Gospel and of Jesus’ life from Mary’s point of view. We get to see her side of the story, how she saw him…how a mother interacted with her son who happened to be God made flesh.

Jorg Breu the Younger's painting of the Madonna.

My wife is not Catholic, but as a Christian and a mother, she’s always had a great interest in who this woman was. What sort of woman could actually bring bring God into this world, nurture him, raise him, and then watch him die–not because he’s fighting for his life–but because that was the plan all along.

As a mother, could you watch the slaughter of your son, even if it meant the salvation of humanity?

While a Christian in high school, I held the same misconceptions about Mary’s relationship with the Catholic Church as many others do. I thought (and therefore condemned the Church) that Catholics worshiped Mary and placed her as a divine equal to Jesus. “Why do these people pray to Mary,” I asked. “Don’t they realize that Jesus is the only mediator between us and the Father?”

Trouble is, I never took the time to ask those questions to an actual Catholic. I never asked a Catholic priest or teacher to clear up the matter. No, in fact all of my Catholic information came from Protestants. Isn’t that like asking a cat what a dog is like?

The simple fact is that Catholics are not taught to worship Mary. It just isn’t part of Church teaching.

By her [Mary] complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity…indeed she is the ‘exemplary realization’ of the Church.” –Paragraph 967 of the Catechism of the Church

The Catechism is the official teaching of the Church. Here we see that she is the model and example of the body of Christ. She shows how to surrender to the will of God freely, without coercion, and how to participate in God’s plan. As I explained regarding our prayers with the saints, Mary is held in esteem because of her proximity with her son, Jesus. She isn’t worshiped, but adored. Catholics pray for her involvement in their own lives through prayer in the same way we pray for help from our family of saints. Indeed only God can answer prayer and only Jesus paves the way to salvation, but it is Mary who leads us to Christ through her humble and extraordinary example.

Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim [Jesus], born of her: to be given, by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: ‘Woman, behold your son.‘” –Paragraphs 534, 618 of the Catechism of the Church

Mother’s feel the pain of their children. Mother’s die when their children die. Can you imagine Mary’s pain, watching her son die on the cross because he had to?

On my trip to Mepkin Abbey with my Catholic Mentor a few days ago, I saw this statue of Mary with the baby Jesus and it changed my whole perspective on Mary forever.

As I stood beneath this sculpture, every became clear in one moment. Look at the tenderness here, the love, the serenity between mother and child. This could be any mother with her baby. Is there any stronger bond? This is why Mary is the one who comforts mothers, especially one’s who’ve lost children. She has experience with that.

So often we focus on Jesus the man, grown and strong, the savior among us. But we’re forgetting his fragility. We are forgetting that once upon a time, the creator of the universe was a helpless babe who needed protection, who needed nurishment, who needed a mother’s touch. And it goes deeper. God, who laid the foundations of the cosmos, who according the Christian theology schemed and planned the salvation of mankind thousands of years before the event, trusted both Himself and the entire plot for salvation to the arms of a woman.

In the relationship between Mary and Jesus, we see the relationship between God and mankind. Trust. God is showing how much he trusts us, because isn’t that what relationships are all about? We are still active parts of our salvation because like Mary, we must consent to allow Christ–to allow God–to live inside us, grow, and then blossom from our hearts into the world.

That is why Mary is regarded as the Mother of the Church. That is why anyone can honor her without fear of idolatry. She is held in high esteem because frankly, moms should always share in the credit and glory of what their children do because after all, they shared in the pain to get us there in the first place.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name.” –Luke 1: 48-49

What are your thoughts on Mary? Did you once believe that Catholics worshiped her?



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abowen

posted December 10, 2011 at 11:55 am


B,

Good point and no, I don’t see the inclusion of Mary here as a bad idea at all.



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abowen

posted December 10, 2011 at 11:55 am


Art,

None of the prayers I’ve read or heard spoken by Catholics remove God from the picture. All prayers are to God, period. The saints are simply role models and guides for daily life.



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abowen

posted December 10, 2011 at 11:53 am


Jonna,

Good to see you here!



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Linda

posted December 9, 2011 at 2:19 pm


I never understood why they prayed to Mary. Thank you for clearing that up. I still don’t believe she accented into heaven the way Christ did.



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Mary Wilson

posted December 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm


Such a lovely essay on the significance of motherly love. I think major religions have a woman who exemplifies devotion to God and surrendering to God’s will. I for one believe that we should look again at the story of Mary Magdalene – I truly believe that she is largely responsible for inspiring the grieving disciples to create (resurrect) the “body” of Christ, i.e., the church in order to spread the gospel. Women are significant in religious history.



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Editor B

posted December 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm


True, the Church does not teach worship of Mary. And yet what the Church teaches and what the folk practice are not one and the same. I have heard it said that the popular folk reverence of Mary stems from a deep memory of (or need for) connecting to the divine feminine, a yearning for repressed goddess traditions. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s interesting to consider. If some people do in fact regard Mary in a manner that approximates “worship,” whatever that means, would it really be such a bad thing?



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Art Sherwood

posted December 8, 2011 at 3:55 pm


I love your explanation of the Catholic view on the Virgin Mary. That certainly is a view I find that I can share and agree with.

I guess the way I have understood (probably erroneously) the Catholic view on Mary and the other Saints as well was that they were more approachable than God. It seemed to me that many Catholics were hesitant to approach God directly in prayer feeling that He was too lofty, too unknowable, too stern or whatever. They would instead pray to Mary or some other Saint that they felt they could relate to better and who would have a better chance of getting their petition through to the Father. I even saw this in a tv show while I was down in Brazil. Granted, it was a slapstick comedy, but the gist of it was that the characters had died and gone to heaven and were standing before God who was angrily condemning them to hell. The characters then turned to Mary who was standing there and pleaded with her to help them. She then turned to God and in her soft and gentle way explained all the good that they had done and that they really didn’t deserve to go to hell. God then conceded and let them into heaven.

So, that’s basically what I have observed, that it seems that Catholics have been taught, directly or indirectly, to fear God to the point that they hesitate to pray directly to Him. They don’t believe that He will be merciful enough or compasionate enough on understanding enough to hear them and grant them their desires. I’m sure that’s not the doctrine of the church but it seems that that is what the followers come away with.

I can understand a person perhaps praying to Mary or the other Saints asking them to pray for you, just as you might ask family members or members of your congregation to pray for you, but I don’t think you should do this in place of praying to the Father. We need to understand that the Father is all compasionate, all loving, all caring. He is approachable. He is willing and able to hear and answer our prayers if we will humbly go to Him.



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susan

posted December 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm


We were taught as Catholics that the Blessed Virgin Mother was held in the same role as saints. The word used often was “intercession” or as a go-between, having a special place in the heart of God, and thus held his ear far better than we mere mortals.



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Jonna

posted December 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm


I grew up Catholic, and was never taught (nor did I ever even think) to worship Mary. Jesus was/is the Savior and who we were taught to worship. I began hearing people sight this (worshiping Mary) as one of the things “wrong” with Catholicism as an adult—but I just tucked it away as people being misinformed. In smaller, more personal conversations when this “topic” has come up, I have began to share my experience–because I’m just not into the “religion bashing” thing… especially when it is Christian denominations bashing other Christian denominations….I feel like saying “hello…we’re all worshiping the same person.” But that’s a whole other soap box…As far as I’m concerned- Mary deserves to be honored for sure— and I think it’s fair to mention that others in the Bible are also honored for their works through/for God. It’s not just Mary. However, being a mother of 3 boys, and as much as I want to be in God’s will, I could NOT IMAGINE how she felt. So yeah, Mary’s AWESOME in my book :-)



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David Kearns

posted December 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm


In the entire Qur’an only one woman is mentioned by name, and she has an entire chapter named after her: Mary, mother of Jesus, alayhi sallam.



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