Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What Catholics Believe: The Blessed Virgin Mary

On Catholic Debate Forum some time ago, a woman who seems to be wavering between her Protestant beliefs and the Catholic Church she says she grew up around, made a passing comment about how wonderful it is to be able to pray to Mary.  A Protestant, uneducated in the Catholic doctrines concerning Mary, decided she just had to chime in and make comments about how it was not biblical to pray to Mary.  She said that since Jesus didn't say any such prayer, like He did the Lord's Prayer, then it must not be true.  It is painfully obvious that she did not think her statement through. Mary was not in Heaven when Jesus was teaching His followers how to pray to God as their Father.  Since Mary was still alive when her Son was on earth, all He would have to do is turn to her and ask her to pray for Him.  Now, Mary is in Heaven with Jesus, and all Mary has to do is turn to her Son when we ask her to pray for us.  Huge big problem in Protestant "logic" when trying to analyze Catholic doctrine concerning Mary is that they frequently compare apples to oranges.  We pray to the Blessed Virgin (and the other saints, too) asking her to pray for us since she is so close to God and part of the same family to which we belong.  Jesus is God, so the Protestant's point is moot, as He has no need to ask anyone to pray for Him.

Now, what do Catholics believe about Mary?  Here are my personal top ten.
1) Mary is the Mother of God.
2) Mary is wholly united with her Son, Jesus.
3) She is the spouse of the Holy Spirit.
4) She is the queen of Heaven.
5) Mary is venerated, not worshiped.
6) Mary is a model of the Church.
7) Mary is a model for Christians.
8) Mary is the Immaculate Conception.
9) Mary has a special part in the order of grace.

10) Mary has and does make special appearances on Earth--called apparitions. 

Here is a presentation of each point:

1)  Mary is the mother of God.

Jesus is God.  Mary is the Mother of Jesus, therefore, Mary is the Mother of God.

No, Catholics do not believe Mary to be the progenitor of the Blessed Trinity.  That never was, nor never will be the claim of the Church.

"Called in the Gospels "the mother of Jesus", Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as "the mother of my Lord". In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly "Mother of God" (Theotokos)." --Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 495.
The above statement from the Catechism succinctly states why we call her "Mother of God."  The Orthodox church honors her as the "Theotokos" or God-bearer.  I don't know about other people but I introduce the woman who carried me in her womb as "mother."  I don't call her 'mother of my body' or "my bearer" because she did not create my soul.  No, I call her "mother." In the same way, we call the bearer of Jesus (the second Person of the Trinity) the "Mother of God" for that is what Jesus is--God.
"For in the first place no common man was born of the holy Virgin; then the Word thus descended upon him; but being united from the womb itself he is said to have endured a generation in the flesh in order to appropriate the producing of His own body.  Thus [the holy Fathers] did not hesitate to speak of the holy Virgin as Mother of God." --Council of Ephesus, AD 431.
It is a belief that was thought over, fought over, and decided very early in the Church.  She is in reality the "Mother of God" not mother of an ordinary man or just His body.  She bore the second Person of the Blessed Trinity in her womb.
"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth." John 1:14
"This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God..." I John 4:2
The Church stated in Lumen Gentium (LG) (or Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) in chapter VIII, "Our Lady":   
"The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and brought forth life to the world, is acknowledged as truly the mother of God and of the Redeemer." (LG 52)

 2) Mary is wholly united with her Son.

[Mary is] "Redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son and united to him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the mother of the Son of God, and therefore she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the holy Spirit.

"Mary's role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. 'This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ's virginal conception up to His death; [LG 57] it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion:
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, 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.'  [LG 58; cf. John26-27] (CCC 964)
At a general audience in October 1995, Pope St. John Paul II stated:
Mary is united to Christ in the whole work of Redemption, sharing, according to God's plan, in the Cross and suffering for our salvation. She remained united to the Son "in every deed, attitude and wish" (cf. Life of Mary, Bol. 196, f. 122 v.). Mary's association with Jesus' saving work came about through her Mother's love, a love inspired by grace, which conferred a higher power on it: love freed of passion proves to be the most compassionate (cf. ibid., Bol. 196, f. 123 v.).

Annunciation by Murillo, 17th cent.
3) She is the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Mary was "overshadowed" by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).  She conceived Jesus by Him.  How else could we express in human terms the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Mary but spousal.  Although every woman is a cooperator with God in the miracle of creation, Mary's cooperation was a much deeper one.  She gave her whole self in her "yes" to God.  This is the type of "yes" God expects us to give in the marriage Sacrament, when two become one.  Mary truly became one with God.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.  He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.  He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  (Mary's "Magnificat", Luke 1:46-55)

The Crowning of the Virgin by the Trinity, Velazquez
4) She is Queen of Heaven.

"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars."  --Revelation 12:1

The logic of this title escapes a lot of well-meaning Christians.  By virtue the fact that Christ is the King of the Universe, Mary is the Queen Mother.  Just as Queen Elizabeth's Mother was called "Queen Mother", so Mary merits the title.  And, like her title as the "Mother of God", "Queen of Heaven" is appropriate and true.  
We have a foreshadowing of this relationship in King Solomon and his mother, Bathsheba.  Solomon had many wives because of the tradition of taking wives of royal families for peace and trade treaties.  The nation of Israel wanted a king "like all the other nations" and they certainly achieved that.  Who was to be his queen?  His hostess?  He couldn't have a favorite and cause strife in the royal household.  Bathsheba, his mother, Queen mother fulfilled those duties.  I Kings chapter shows an incident of someone coming to her to beg a favor of her son, King Solomon.  It shows that she was the acknowledged queen; the one anyone should talk to if they wanted something from the king. In the same way we can go to Blessed Virgin Mary when we want to ask the King for His mercy and favor.

Our Lady of Grace from an old prayer card
5) Mary is venerated not worshiped.

The first person to venerate Mary was her cousin, Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:41-45

Mary is considered the first of the saints because of her role in the economy of salvation.  She bore the second Person of the Blessed Trinity in her body.  She was Christ's first disciple.  She is the Queen Mother, as Christ is the King of the Universe. 
"Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and humanity to a place after her Son, as the most holy mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ: she is rightly honored with a special cult by the church."

"This cult, as it has always existed, in the Church, while it is totally extraordinary, it yet differs essentially from the cult of adoration which is offered equally to the Incarnate Word and to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and is most favorable to this adoration.  The various forms of piety towards the Mother of God which, within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine,...ensure that while the mother is honored, the Son through whom all things have their being and in whom it has pleased the Father that "all fullness should dwell" rightly known, loved and glorified and his commandments are observed."  [both quotes from Lumen Gentium (LG), Chapter VIII, para 66.
This is essentially saying that there has always been a following of Mary, but it has always come in second place the adoration and worship of God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Despite the anachronistic accusations of  many anti-Catholics, praying to Mary is not worshiping her.  I, personally, have a difficult time in understanding how to a) hold onto a heritage that includes perfectly legitimate language while at the same time b) not sounding as if Catholics have to justify that perfectly legitimate language to the willfully ignorant.  To pray does include other meanings aside from the worship of God. The current Merriam-Webster online Dictionary has this definition of pray:

St. Louis de Monfort was devoted to Mary
: to speak to God especially in order to give thanks or to ask for something
: to hope or wish very much for something to happen
: to seriously ask (someone) to do something
transitive verb   1:  entreat, implore —often used as a function word in introducing a question, request, or plea; pray be careful;  2:  to get or bring by praying
 intransitive verb  1:  to make a request in a humble manner  2:  to address God or a god with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving

Examples of PRAY:  1. There's little else to do now but hope and pray.  2. The minister said, Let us pray.”   3.  He prayed that they would have the strength to go on.   4. He prayed that he would find a parking spot.
Origin of PRAY
Middle English, from Anglo-French prier, praer, preier, from Latin precari, from prec-, prex request, prayer; akin to Old High German frāga question, frāgēn to ask, Sanskrit pṛcchati he asks
Any educated person can see that "pray" has had and still has more than one meaning.  It is not just a wording meaning worship or adoration or praising God.  What is that pray tell?  No, I am not worshiping you.

As for the kneeling, I kneel to weed my garden; I do not worship my flowers.  I kneel to scrub the floor; I am not worshiping linoleum.  There is a purpose for kneeling, but kneeling is not reserved just for worshiping God.  Kneeling in supplication to God in Church is for us; it humbles us before God.  Kneeling in prayer to Mary helps us quiet our body and our mind in asking the mother of Our Lord to pray for us to her Son.  So, when a Catholic prays a Rosary on their knees they are not worshiping Mary, they are praying through her to her Son, Jesus.  If one cares to investigate how Jesus is actually the co-star, as it were, of the Rosary, one may find this research on the Rosary done by David MacDonald of Catholic Bridge interesting.

Some important dates connected to remember because they are holy days of obligation are: January 1, the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God; August 15, the Assumption of Mary; December 8, the Immaculate Conception of Mary (not moved to Sunday because Mary Immaculate is the Patroness of the United States), and, of course, Christmas, December 25th.

Other important feast days (though not obligations) are:  February 2, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple; March 25, the Annunciation; May 31, the Visitation; August 22, the Queenship of Mary; September 8, Mary's birthday; September 12, the most holy name of Mary; November 21, the presentation of Mary at the Temple; May is the month of Mary; and October is the month of the Rosary.

Pentecote [Pentecost] by Jean II Restout 1732
6) Mary is a model of the Church.

"The Church becomes a mother, taking Mary as her model. In this regard the Council says: "The Church in deed, contemplating her hidden sanctity, imitating her charity and faithfully fulfilling the Father's will, by receiving the Word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By preaching and Baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life" (LG 64).
Analyzing this description of the Church's maternal work, we can note how the Christian's birth is linked here in a certain way to the birth of Jesus, as though a reflection of it: Christians are "conceived by the Holy Spirit", and therefore their birth, the fruit of preaching and Baptism, resembles the Saviour's.
Moreover, in contemplating Mary, the Church imitates her charity, her faithful acceptance of the Word of God and her docility in fulfilling the Father's will. By following the Blessed Virgin's example, she achieves a fruitful spiritual motherhood.  (Pope St. John Paul II, Mary is Model for Church's Motherhood, Section 3.)
St. John Paul II explained this point extremely well.  The Church must imitate Mary's charity and "her faithful acceptance of the Word of God."  There is nothing more important than having the Church as our Mother.  We have God as our Father and the Church as our Mother.  Those of us who have a true passion for Christ's Church are working hard in making sure the Church becomes more like Mary.

7) Mary is a model for Christians.

From the Church he [the Christian] learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary...." (CCC 2030)
Mary was there from the first moment of His Conception, to every aspect of His public ministry, through His suffering, death, and burial to His joyful Resurrection.  She was there in the upper room when the fulfillment of Christ's promise, to send a comforter, was fulfilled and the Apostles and Mary received the Holy Spirit.  (See LG 58) She was there for it all and she is an example for us all.  She believed His words; she believed His promises.  She followed Him with the undying faith that we all should have.

"...the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin.(300) And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues....For Mary, who since her entry into salvation history unites in herself and re-echoes the greatest teachings of the faith as she is proclaimed and venerated, calls the faithful to her Son and His sacrifice and to the love of the Father."  (LG 65)
She is the model for us in virtue and our call to her Son.  If we were to model our lives after the example of Mary's complete giving of self to God, we, too, will be prepared to meet Him in Heaven.

Immaculate Conception by Murillo 1678
8) Mary is the Immaculate Conception

First, in talking about the Immaculate Conception, one must clear up a major misconception, namely that the Immaculate Conception is not the Virgin Birth of Jesus.  One could say that Jesus was born with an immaculate soul.  However, the title Immaculate Conception refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  This, in simple terms, means that Mary was the one person since before "The Fall" that received an immaculate soul--free of Original Sin.

"To become the mother of the Savior, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role."132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as "full of grace".133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace."  [CCC 490132 LG 56.  133 Lk 1:28.]

This grace was not given to her because of anything she did but was a gift to her for her future "yes."  Now, how do we explain this concept?  Jesus, because He is God is not bound by time.  Yes, He voluntarily became man in time and space for a very short time on Earth.  However, Scripture makes it quite clear that He is God and has all the attributes of God.  By virtue of Mary's saying "yes" to God she was gifted an immaculate (or completely spotless) soul.

"The "splendor of an entirely unique holiness" by which Mary is "enriched from the first instant of her conception" comes wholly from Christ: she is "redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son".136 The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" and chose her "in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love"." 137  [CCC 492136 LG 53, 56.  137 Cf. Eph 1:3-4.]

9) Mary has a special part in the order of grace.

This means she was full of God's life (grace).  She literally had God inside her.  There could be no more special way in which one could have God's life in you.  She therefore has a special part in the order of grace.

"This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . .

"Mary's function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power." (CCC 969, 970)

Our Lady of Kibeho
10) Mary has and does make special appearances on Earth--called apparitions. 

An apparition is defined as an appearance of Jesus, Mary, or another saint which may include a message to the person(s) who experiences the apparition. While most people think that the Vatican or a council of bishops must approve an apparition, it is actually the responsibility of the bishop (the ordinary) of the diocese in which the apparition occurs.  As a result there are many conflicting reports on just how many Marian apparitions are "approved".  However, many times the pope has made an official approval of certain apparitions, but he is usually putting his stamp of approval, so to speak, on apparitions approved by the local ordinary (bishop).  As far as this author can find, there is no comprehensive, up to date list of all "approved" Marian apparitions.  ("Approved" is defined as "worthy of belief by the Christian faithful" but by no means is it obligatory to do so.)  Some of those "approved" by proper Church authority are Our Lady of Guadalupe (1531), Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (1830), Our Lady of LaSalette (1846), "Immaculate Conception" or Our Lady of Lourdes (1858), Pontmain (1871), Our Lady of Knock (1879) at Knock, Ireland, "Our Lady of the Rosary" aka Our Lady of Fatima (1917), Beauraing (1932-33), Belgium, Banneux (1933), Belgium, Our Lady of Kibeho also known as "Mary, Mother of the Word" (1981), Rwanda.

This is not a complete list, but I plan to address some of these Marian apparitions in a future post.

So, there you have it--some basics on Mary.  These are my personal Top 10.  There could be things I didn't touch on or forgot to include.  This is not meant as a comprehensive treatise on the Blessed Virgin, but a starting point for non-Catholics (perhaps Catholics, too) in understanding who is this Mary, the mother of our Savior.

Further Reading:
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part I, Section 2, Chapter 3, Paragraph 6. Mary--Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.  
Churches teachings on Mary, EWTN index on various teachings.
General Audiences: Teaching of John Paul II on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope St. John Paul II, various dates.
Redemptoris Mater (or On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Pilgrim Church), Pope St. John Paul II, March 25, 1987.
Rosarium Virginis Mariae (or Apostolic Letter on the Most Holy Rosary), Pope St. John Paul II, Oct. 16, 2002.
Marialis Cultus (or Apostolic Exhortation For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary), Pope Paul VI, Feb. 2, 1974.

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