Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Dear Father,
Why do we pray to Mary more than other Saints? What makes her so special? She was just a woman like us wasn't she?

Name and Hometown Withheld.

Three features of Catholic life consistently draw questions from non-Catholics: the Pope, the Mass, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In reference to the Blessed Virgin, I suspect these questions come from a genuine concern not to have Christ’s unique mediation minimized (I Timothy 2:5-6). When you encounter such objections, keeping this point in mind helps maintain a charitible frame of mind.

At the outset, one point needs to be made. As Catholics, we don’t worship the Blessed Virgin Mary. To do so would be a terrible offense against God and a terrible insult to Mary as well. She is a creature and therefore is not to be worshipped (Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 5:8-9). Rather, we show her respect and honor due to her unique and significant role in salvation history.

The Church’s teaching draws our attention to four particular graces that were bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin Mary. These graces outline the manner of Our Lady’s cooperation and ground our veneration of her. We, first, venerate her as the Mother of God. The shocking aspect of the coming of Jesus is not that he is the Messiah; the shock comes in the revelation that this Messiah is also the Son of God (Luke 1:32). In the flesh of Man, flesh he takes from his Mother alone, the Second Person of the Trinity, who without beginning or end, becomes incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church officially defined this teaching at the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) in an effort to stress the unity of Jesus’ divine and human natures.

Second, we honor Mary as being immaculately conceived. When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, to announce her role as Mother of God, he addresses her as "full of Grace" or in other translations, "highly favored one." The meaning of the Greek word here indicates both a quality of Mary and a status conveyed to her. By declaring that Mary is conceived immaculately, the Church declares that Mary is preserved from the taint of Original Sin from the moment of her conception in anticipation of the merits of Christ. Therefore, the Church doesn’t teach that Mary didn’t need a redeemer. What she does teach is that Mary received a unique participation in that redemption.

Mary also receives our veneration, thirdly, because of her perpetual virginity. This one is very hard for many Protestants, and not a few Catholics, to understand and accept. It seems unnatural for Mary not to have other children. Yet, as Christ is dying upon the Cross, Jesus doesn’t entrust his Mother to an unmentioned sibling. Christ gives responsibility of her well-being and protection to Saint John. If Jesus truly did have blood siblings, born of the marriage of Joseph and Mary, then he would trespass upon a solemn family obligation. In Hebrew, family bonds were more fluid than we understand them. There are no words for relationships like "cousin." As the Gospel writers were more familiar with Hebrew than Greek, they would describe the relationship using a Hebrew notion expressed in Greek terms.

Lastly, the Church honors Mary because of her Assumption, Body and Soul into Heaven. In the Book of Revelation, St. John relates a vision of the eternal Jerusalem descending from Heaven (cf. Revelation 11:19-12:6). St. John sees the temple of God in Heaven and the ark of the Covenant could be seen. The great sign of this is the Woman clothed with Sun. Many commentators want to limit this apparition merely to being a symbol of the Church. This doesn’t gibe well with the next verses which describe the birth of a son who will rule the nations. A better interpretation for this is that St. John reveals that Mary was assumed into Heaven and already shares fully in the promises made by Christ to those who follow in His way.

Mary then becomes an icon for every Christian. We strive to imitate her virtues of faith and humility. We long to be faithful to our mission to and for Christ as she was. We hope to one day be with her who served her Son, in the joys of Heaven.

As a brief postscript, a reader contacted me requesting a clarification on my last article. For a Catholic, Fridays in Lent are days of mandatory abstention from meat. All other Fridays of the year, while highly recommended, the abstention from meat is not mandatory. I hope that clarifies any confusion.