Mary

“And the Angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”

Luke 1:28

What the Catholic Church teaches about Mary, is based entirely upon what she believes and teaches about Jesus Christ (cf. CCC 487). This can readily be seen by an honest examination of the Church’s teachings about the Blessed Mother. And so we approach our study of the Blessed Virgin Mary without fear, recognizing the truth in the words spoken by St. Maximilian Kolbe:

“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”

Mother of God

“If any one does not confess that the Emmanuel (Christ) in truth is God and that on this account the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (theotokos)—since according to the flesh she brought forth the Word of God made flesh—let him be anathema.” Council of Ephesus 431 AD

The Council of Ephesus proclaimed Mary Theotokos (God-bearer)… Mother of God.  This dogma is ultimately a defense of Christ. Mary was proclaimed Theotokos in opposition to the Nestorian heresy which denied Christ being both human and divine. Luke 1:31 calls Jesus the “Son of God” by deduction then Mary is the mother of the Son of God. Galatians 4:4 “..God sent His Son, born of a woman”. And there are numerous other Scriptural passages which emphatically insist that Mary is the mother of Jesus. Thus, Mary is truly the mother Jesus. Jesus is God. Thus, Mary is the mother of Jesus Who is God. And so, Mary is the mother of God (Jesus). Not the Trinity. Just Jesus. Mary gave birth to a Son who is truly God and therefore she is rightly called the mother of God.

Perpetual Virginity

While this would be obvious to most Christians, the surprising part for most is probably the threefold aspect of this dogma. Namely, that Our Lady was a virgin (1) before, (2) during, and (3) after the birth of Our Lord.

“If anyone does not properly and truly confess in accord with the holy Fathers, that the holy Mother of God and ever Virgin and immaculate Mary in the earliest ages conceived of the Holy Spirit without seed, namely, God the Word Himself specifically and truly, who was born of God the Father before all ages, and that she incorruptibly bore Him, her virginity remaining indestructable even after His birth, let him be anathema.” The Lateran Council 649 AD (Canon 3)

The dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity is a bit more complicated than most would think. Technically it defines Mary as a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. Most Protestants will agree that Mary was a virgin before the birth of Jesus and only take issue with Mary’s virginity after Jesus’ birth.  The prophetic texts and Gospels are clear that Jesus was born of a virgin.  He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of Mary.

The confusing statement that Mary was virginal during the birth of Jesus defines that Jesus, in the act of being born, did not diminish the physical virginity of Mary. As light passes through glass without damage, so too did Jesus pass through the womb of Mary without any physical violation of her womb. In the prophetic text of Isaiah (7:14), the Church sees the virginal “bearing” as important.  It would not be fitting that He who came to heal corruption should enter the world with physical violation. Thus, the birth of Jesus did not diminish Mary’s virginity, but instead sanctified it. This is why Mary is the perfect model of virginity for the Church, since she possessed a perfect virginity in both soul and body.

The more controversial is Mary’s virginity after the birth of Jesus. There are 2 main objections to this stance of the dogma. The first is the words “before” and “until” in Matthew 1:18 and 1:25, respectively.  Both simply establish what has not taken place, regardless of what takes place after. For example, 2 Samuel 6:23 says that Michal had no children until the day of her death and in Matthew 28:19 Jesus says that He will be with us always, until the end of the age. Thus, “until” does not necessarily imply “and then it happened”. It simply establishes what has not taken place. The second objection, the brothers of Jesus, which are even named in Mark 6, does not imply a blood relation. This issue is mainly a western problem, because we tend to give words exclusive meanings when they don’t require them. “Brothers” has always tended to have a more universal meaning in the Church and in Scripture (Paul and James address the Church saying “Brethren” in their epistles). We call each other “brothers” and “sisters”, do we not? Yet we don’t demand an exclusive meaning. Genesis 13:8 refers to Lot and Abraham as brothers, yet they are actually nephew and uncle, respectively, so we also know that “brothers” is and can be used to identify near-relatives that are not blood-brothers.

The primary perspective for this dogma is to safeguard the discipleship of Mary and the uniqueness of the Incarnation. Just as God has only one “firstborn” Son, so does Mary the mother of the Son. It is a reverencing of God becoming man, not a slam on sexuality.

The Immaculate Conception

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8 1854

On December 8, 1954 Pope Pius IX solemnly defined the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The Scriptural background for this definition comes primarily from two passages of Scripture: Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28.

Genesis 3:15 God addresses the serpent and declares that He will put enmity (complete and radical opposition) between 1) the serpent and the woman and 2) between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The serpent is Satan and the seed of Satan is sin, all fallen angels (demons), etc. and the woman in this passage must ultimately be Mary. Firstly, she must be Mary because Mary is the mother of the seed of victory (Jesus). Eve is not the mother of Jesus. Secondly, because this is an early prophetic text—it speaks of the future (i.e., Jesus). Thirdly, because in the very next verse (Genesis 3:16) Eve is punished. Why would God praise the woman and then curse her in the very next verse? The seed of the woman is Jesus Christ. The seed of the woman in this verse cannot be all of humanity because all of humanity is not in total and complete opposition to Satan. The same enmity that exists between the woman and Satan is the same enmity that exists between Jesus and sin. Thus, if Mary had any sin she would not possess that same enmity that the passage expresses.

Luke 1:28 is more familiar. Whether one translates “full of grace” or “highly favored” the Greek word is “kekaritomene” which is a perfect, passive, participle. As such, of grammatical necessity it refers to a completed (perfect), past (passive), action; and in context, this completed past action must have relevance to the Angel Gabriel’s announcement that Mary will conceive and bear the Savior of the World in her womb.  The Catholic Church identifies that completed, past, action as the Immaculate Conception wherein God, from the moment of Mary’s conception preserved her (saved her in a radical way) from Original Sin in order that she might more fittingly be the mother of Jesus.

The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven

“For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, November 1 1950

Going back to Genesis 3:15, St. Paul identifies the seed of the serpent as sin and death (see Romans 5-8, 1 Corinthians 15-24, and Hebrews 2), and in Genesis 3:15 the woman is foreshadowed as sharing in the victory of her seed over the serpent and the seed of the serpent. Thus, through Jesus, Mary triumphs over both sin and death (sin through her Immaculate Conception wherein God saved her from sin; and death (the corruption of the body) through her assumption). The woman full of grace (perfected by grace) would not experience corruption through sin. And in Revelation 11:19 we read that the Ark of the Covenant is in Heaven, followed by a vision of a woman crowned in 12:1. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament contained within it fragments of the 10 Commandments (the Law), a piece of Aaron’s staff (Priesthood), and some of the manna (“Bread of Life” for the Israelites). Mary, as the Ark of the New Covenant, bore Jesus Christ in her womb. Jesus who is the Divine Lawgiver, Great High Priest, and the true Bread of Life. Thus, she can rightly be compared to, and called the Ark of the New Covenant. Psalm 132:8 “Arise, Lord, come to your resting place, you and your majestic ark”… foreshadows Jesus’ Ascension (raising to Heaven by His own power) and Mary’s Assumption, as the Ark of the New Covenant (she was assumed—raised, by the power of Christ, not her own, into Heaven).

Interestingly enough, as a small side note, while there are two “tombs” of Mary: one in Ephesus, and one in Jerusalem, neither claim to have her bones, nor does any Christian Church. Considering the practice of the early Christians, this fact lends itself as further evidence of Mary’s bodily assumption into Heaven.

Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate

While not yet a fifth Marian dogma, the theology of Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate is very much a part of Catholic doctrine and devotion. While the definition (as dogma) could come under different titles, the titles expressed above have been used by the Magisterium to describe Our Lady’s role in salvation history:

Co-Redemptrix

“From the nature of His work, the Redeemer ought to have associated His mother with His work. For this reason we invoke her under the title of Co-Redemptrix. She gave us the Savior, she accompanied Him in the work of redemption as far as the Cross itself, sharing with Him the sorrows of the agony and of the death in which Jesus consummated the redemption of mankind. And immediately beneath the Cross, at the last moments of His life, she was proclaimed by the Redeemer, our Mother, the Mother of the whole universe.” Pope Pius IX, Allocution to pilgrims from Vicenze, November 30 1933

“Mary suffered and, as it were, nearly died with her suffering Son; for the salvation of mankind she renounced her mother’s rights and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may well say that she with Christ redeemed mankind.” Pope Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia, May 22 1918

“Mother most faithful and most merciful, who as Co-Redemptrix and partaker of thy dear Son’s sorrows didst assist Him as He offered the sacrifice of our redemption on the altar of the Cross, preserve in us and increase each day, we beseech thee, the precious fruits of our redemption and thy compassion.” Pope Pius XI, radio message to the pilgrims at Lourdes, April 28 1935

Mary is Co-Redemptrix describes Mary’s participation in the one unique mediation of Jesus Christ. Etymologically, Co-Redemptrix means “woman with the Redeemer”. It most emphatically does not mean ‘equal’. In Scripture, once again in Genesis 3:15 the woman is intimately involved in the situation. Luke 2:35 is a foreshadowing of this by the words of Simeon. It foreshadows Calvary (because the Temple is a place of sacrifice)—where a mother offers her child to the Father. At the crucifixion, Mary gave up her rights as the mother of Jesus and did not stand in His way nor try and protect her own Son as He offered up His own life on the Cross (which is why her heart was pierced).

Mediatrix

“Mary is this glorious intermediary… the plan of this most loving mercy, realized by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ, was understood with the utmost joy by the holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was the belief and teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. Christians of every generation received it with one mind.” Pope Leo XIII, Octobri Mense, September 22 1891

“The scene of Jesus’ birth is complete through Mary’s presence. The faith of her believers and her children’s love consider her not only God’s mother, but also the Mediatrix with God.” Pope Benedict XV, Christmas allocution, December 24 1915

Mary is Mediatrix of all graces, because she participates in the distribution of grace with and under Jesus, from Whom all grace flows. By her consent to the conception of Christ, Mary mediated the grace of Christ to all of humanity. In Luke 1:42 and following, Mary mediated the presence of Christ both to Elizabeth who was then overcome with the Holy Spirit, and to John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth who leapt for joy. In John 2:1-5 Mary mediated the first public miracle of Jesus. Mary made an act of faith in asking for the miracle, which Jesus performs. Of course, all of this is in virtue of Christ, through Whom all grace was won, and through Whom all grace comes.

Advocate

“The zeal and love of the Blessed Virgin Mary have such influence in obtaining God’s help for us that, just as through her, God came down to earth, so through her, man mounts up to heaven. But just as man’s iniquity often calls down God’s indignation, God’s Mother is the rainbow of the eternal covenant for mankind’s salvation. For, while the prayers of those in heaven have certainly some claim of the watchful eye of God, Mary’s prayers place their assurance on the right of a mother. For that reason, when she approaches the throne of her Divine Son, she begs as advocate, she prays as handmaid, but she commands as mother.” Pope St. Pius X, Tanto Studio, February 19 1905

Mary is also then our Advocate after the Holy Spirit. This comes from the Queen Mother tradition, found in the Scriptures. 1 King 2:19 (etc.), the mother of the Davidic King was given the title “Gebirah” (Great Lady) and had 2 roles: 1) pick the successor, and 2) she was the principle intercessor from the people to the King. Since, as Gabriel announced to Mary in Luke 1:31, Jesus will take the royal throne of David, Mary becomes the new Queen Mother. (This is also why when the disciples asked to sit at His right in Heaven, Jesus replies that He cannot offer them that (Mark 10:35+).

The Rosary

I include a separate section here devoted to the Rosary because the Rosary is one of the greatest prayers. Every Catholic should pray the Rosary often, daily if possible.

“If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins ‘you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory.’ Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practise black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and will save your soul, if– and mark well what I say– if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.” –St. Louis Marie de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary


Marian Apparitions

While not part of the Deposit of Faith, Marian Apparitions deemed worthy of belief by the Church should not be dismissed. Here are a few of the ‘main’ Marian apparitions that Catholics should know (and non-Catholics should find interesting).

(Under Construction)
Fatima
Lourdes
Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

Marian Reads

*Mary in the Church

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