May 3, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Catholics’ devotion to Mary

John F. FinkThe month of May is devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

One of the things that Protestants don’t seem to understand about Catholics is their strong devotion to Mary.

Catholics, by the same token, often don’t understand why Protestants, who believe in the Bible, don’t have a greater devotion to her. Luke’s Gospel quotes Mary in her Magnificat as saying, “From now on, all ages will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).

Some Protestants object to Catholic devotion to Mary because they believe that it puts Mary on the same level as Jesus. If this were true, it would be heretical.

The Catholic Church does not make Mary an equal with Jesus. We do not adore Mary. Mary’s role is to lead us to her Son, to deepen our devotion to Jesus as our Savior.

Catholics believe Mary is the greatest saint, and we pray to her for her intercession with her Son. In the Hail Mary, we ask Mary to “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

Here are the Catholic doctrines about Mary:

1. She is the mother of God. The Council of Ephesus in 431 solemnly established that Jesus had two natures, divine and human, but that he was one person, and Mary was the mother of that person. If Jesus is God, as Christians believe, and Mary is his mother, then Mary is the mother the God.

2. Mary remained a virgin all her life. Both Luke’s Gospel (Lk 1:35) and Matthew’s (Mt 1:20) tell us that Mary conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, while remaining a virgin. The conviction that she remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth developed early in the Church.

As for the “brothers of Jesus” referred to in Scripture, Catholics believe either that they were cousins or, along with the Orthodox, that they were Joseph’s children by a previous marriage. In this view, Joseph was a widower who agreed to care for Mary.

Some Protestants deny that Mary remained a virgin, although it’s interesting to note that Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley all held that she was ever-virgin.

3. Mary was conceived without original sin. This doctrine is called the Immaculate Conception and should not be confused with the doctrine of the virgin birth. It means that, when Mary was conceived by her parents, she was preserved from the original sin that, according to Christian doctrine, we are all born with.

This doctrine, not formally defined until 1854, states that Mary had a “preservative redemption” in anticipation of the foreseen merits of Jesus.

The only biblical basis for this doctrine is the angel Gabriel’s address to Mary, “Hail, full of grace” or, in modern translations, “Hail, highly favored one” (Lk 1:28). If Mary was full of grace, she did not have original sin on her soul.

4. Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. This doctrine, called the Assumption, wasn’t defined as dogma until 1950, but the feast of the Assumption was being celebrated as early as the sixth century. There is no clearly biblical basis for this dogma. †

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