Advent is a wonderful time to give an overview of why Catholics
believe what they do about Mary, in hopes that it might foster Christian unity.
We do not worship Mary.
Worship is reserved for God alone. Idolatry in any form is absolutely condemned. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2110-2114) spells this out clearly. Mary is a creature (God’s most highly honoured one, mind you), and certainly not a God to be worshipped.
Intercession of Mary and the saints
A Catholic kneeling in prayer by a statue or picture of Mary, or any other saint, is not worshipping or praying to that that statue. Statues/images are non-living matter and have no power whatsoever.
However, statues or pictures can be used to both honour and call to mind a particular saint, since it is Catholic teaching that not only can we pray to saints, as in talk to them, but that saints can take those prayers to God on our behalf. Catholics call this intercession. We never attribute divine power to a saint, statue, or image, or consider that a particular saint has their own power to answer prayers directed to them. It is always God that answers the prayers brought before him.
Some question why anybody would pray to or ask the Blessed Mother, or any other saint, for their intercession. Why not go directly to the “one mediator,” Jesus?
The saints – in fact all of us – have been given a share in Jesus’ mediation. Recall James 5:16 confirms that “the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” But all mediation ultimately leads to Jesus.
Some people object that the saints are dead or can’t hear us in heaven. But those in heaven are not only alive but are connected to us as part of the body of Christ and so can aid us with their prayers like any other Christian (Heb 12:1, Rom 12:5, Lk 20:37-38, Rev 5:8, 8:3-4).
Just as we wouldn’t hesitate to ask a friend on earth to pray/intercede for us, we can ask members of the Body of Christ in heaven to intercede for us as well. There have been literally hundreds of medically documented miracles attributed to this kind of intercession in the history of the Church, confirming that the saints in heaven can hear our prayers. With God, everything is possible.
Mary Mother of God
The Church reasons that if Mary is the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, then Mary is the Mother of God. Ironically, all the major Reformers held this belief as well, Martin Luther writing, “she was made the Mother of God.”
This title does not mean Mary is the source of Jesus’ eternal divinity, any more than any mother is the source of her child’s spiritual soul. In both cases the spiritual element is from God. But as a mother, Mary is the mother of a person – the second divine person of the Trinity, Jesus, who is God. With this understanding, Mary can rightfully be called the Mother of God. Elizabeth literally uses this title in Luke 1:41-43, greeting Mary as “the mother of my Lord.”
Perpetual Virginity: Did Mary have other children?
For over 1,500 years, virtually all of Christianity, again including all the Reformers, believed Mary had no other children. Martin Luther declared, “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin.”
Ulrich Zwingli was equally adamant: “I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary.”
Similarly, John Wesley would write that Jesus was “born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.”
But what about Jesus’ “brothers” in places like Matthew 13:55? “Is not his mother called Mary, and his brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?”
A key point here is that the Hebrew of Jesus’ day had no word for cousin or other near relative. If you had a cousin or close relation in biblical times in Jewish culture, they were usually called “brother” or “sister.” We see a perfect example of this in Genesis 14:14 where Lot is called Abraham’s “brother,” even though biblical genealogies confirm Lot is his nephew. This tradition persists even today.
Similarly, in Galatians 1:18-19 we read: “I … saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.” James is called “the Lord’s brother,” but he can’t be Jesus’ actual blood brother, because St. Paul clearly states he’s an apostle, and none of the apostles named James were sons of Joseph.
Examining Scripture and historical accounts more closely, we can trace all four of these “brothers” in Matthew 13:55 to another Mary and her husband, Clopas/Alphaeus (Mt 27:56, Mk 15:40, Jn 19:25, and Jude 1:1). Additionally, the second-century historian Hegesippus (and others) record that Clopas/Alphaeus was both the brother of St. Joseph and also the father of all four of these “brothers” of Jesus.
People also insist that because Matthew 1:25 tells us “Joseph … knew her not until she had borne a son,” the word “until” implies Joseph and Mary later did have relations. But in biblical times “until” often meant a particular action happened up to a certain point; it didn’t necessarily imply any other future actions after that. For example, in 1 Cor 15:25: “(Christ) must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” does not imply Christ ceased to reign afterwards.
The Church teaches that “from the first moment of her conception … (Mary) was preserved free from every stain of original sin.” A scriptural precedent for this teaching is clearly seen in Genesis, since Adam and Eve were created in exactly this same state. Why could God not do the same for Mary, especially considering the Third Commandment, honour your father and mother. It is absolutely fitting that Jesus honours his mother perfectly by creating her perfectly. This also prepares a worthy vessel to hold the Word made flesh.
Scripture provides further strong evidence for this doctrine in Genesis 3:15, where we see there will be enmity (complete opposition) between Satan and “the woman” and a battle between his seed and hers. Her “seed” can only be Jesus, and the “woman” can only be Mary.
Key in all this is that the woman (Mary) is not of the devil’s seed. This is profound and means she must have been born into God’s friendship and family from the beginning, as this doctrine teaches.
1 John 3:7-11 gives further powerful testimony, literally interpreting Genesis 3:15 for us: “Whoever sins belongs to the devil … No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God. In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are made plain.”
Luke 1:28 gives us further insight. In the angel’s greeting “Hail, full of grace,” Gabriel uses the Greek word “Kecharitomene” – properly translated, “full of grace.” Greek, like English, can use tenses of words to convey more information through that word. Kecharitomene is in the perfect tense, revealing that this filling of grace was completed in the past, resulting in an ongoing, perpetual state of grace. So this grace was not a result of the angel’s visit, but a state that Mary was already in.
Was the Blessed Mother sinless?
God always provides sufficient grace in every situation to avoid sin (1 Cor 10:13). So, could a person remain sinless their entire lives? By the grace of God, potentially yes.
Scripture gives us a good sense of this potential. For example, Jude 1:24-25: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing…” Sounds just like the Blessed Mother.
Similarly, in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 we read: “May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Equally powerful is 1 John 5:18: “Any one born of God does not sin, but he (Jesus) … keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.” Note that in all these verses it is God that is working. What is impossible for us is possible by the grace of God.
Was Mary assumed bodily into heaven?
Scripture mentions several other people who were taken bodily into heaven. In 2 Kings 2:11, we see the great prophet Elijah being taken “up to heaven in a whirlwind.” In Revelation 11:3-13, we see the “two witnesses” who “went up to heaven in a cloud as their enemies looked on.”
In Hebrews 11:5 we read that “Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; And he was not found, because God had taken him … he was attested as having pleased God.” Now who has pleased God more than his Blessed Mother? If Enoch “was taken” bodily, it certainly makes sense that the Blessed Mother would be too.
In addition, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 teaches that at the final coming of Jesus, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” – a bodily assumption into heaven.
Some point out that in John 3:13 Jesus says, “No one has ascended up to heaven, but … the Son of man.” But the Church does not teach that Mary ascended into heaven on her own power like Jesus did. She was assumed – taken bodily up into heaven by God himself.
Perhaps the most powerful testimony from Scripture is Revelation 11:19-12:6: “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” Recall that the early Christian Church considered Mary the “New Ark of the Covenant,” carrying not God’s Word in stone like the Old Testament ark, but the Word of God made flesh.
We read, “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 … She gave birth to a son ... Her child was caught up to God and his throne.”
Here we essentially have a description of the Blessed Mother in heaven: a woman who gives birth to a son – a heavenly king. That son is unquestionably Jesus, and so the woman must be Mary.
Psalm 132:8 fits this interpretation prophetically: “Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark which you have sanctified.” Amen.
“All generations shall call me blessed.” Do you call her blessed?
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