May 15, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Traditions about Mary

John F. Fink(Fourteenth in a series of columns)

Here are some ancient traditions about Mary. Catholics do not have to believe in them all, but only the doctrines I wrote about last week. Early Christians, however, did believe them to be true.

Mary is believed to have been born in Jerusalem near the Bethesda Pools. Her parents were Joachim and Anne. Today, the Church of St. Anne, built by crusaders in the 12th century, is over the site.

Joachim and Anne were elderly when Mary was born. When Mary was 3, they took her to the Temple, as they promised to do before she was born, and left her there. Girls were raised in the Temple and given a thorough Torah education in exchange for performing various services for the priests.

These girls, though, had to leave the Temple before puberty because women could not be in the Temple when they were menstruating. So the priests looked for a husband for her among widowers. An older man was sought for her husband because Mary had taken a vow of virginity. Her husband was expected to protect her and to honor her vow.

Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth, was chosen. He protested that he was old and already had six children, but he agreed to take Mary as his wife. The names of Joseph’s four sons are in the Gospels of Matthew (Mt 13:55) and Mark (Mk 6:3): James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. His daughters are not named.

The Gospels tell us about the Annunciation, Mary’s visitation to her relative, Elizabeth, the birth of Jesus, his presentation in the Temple, the escape into Egypt, the move to Nazareth, and the finding of Jesus in the Temple when he stayed there at the age of 12. They also tell us of Mary’s role at the wedding feast at Cana and when she accompanied Jesus’ brothers when they tried to take him back to Nazareth because they thought he was out of his mind.

She was at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. According to the Acts of the Apostles, she was also present when the Holy Spirit came upon those assembled in the Upper Room.

The building where the Upper Room was located became the first Christian church. Mary moved into a home across the street with the Apostle John and probably her stepson James, the first bishop of Jerusalem. The Byzantine church Hagia Sion was built over her home in 415, and crusaders replaced it with the Santa Maria Church. Today, the Dormition Abbey stands atop the excavations of those churches.

Mary died there and was buried in the Kidron Valley near the Garden of Gethsemane. From there, she was taken bodily to heaven. Today, the tomb is still venerated, but all that is left is the crypt of a basilica built in the fourth century.

Some Catholics, though, believe that she moved to Ephesus with the Apostle John and died there. It seems more likely, though, that John moved to Ephesus after Mary’s death and her assumption into heaven. †

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