May 17, 2019

Editorial

May is the month of Mary

For centuries, Catholics and Orthodox have dedicated the month of May to Mary, the mother of Jesus. We believe that she deserves this honor because God himself honored her by choosing her to become the mother of our Redeemer.

We believe that she is the greatest saint, and we have always prayed to her for her intercession “now and at the hour of our death,” as the Hail Mary prayer states.

Our devotion to Mary, though, is one of the things that many Protestants don’t understand. Catholics have been accused of adoring Mary, of putting her on the same level as Jesus. If this were true, it would be heretical. We don’t adore Mary, who was only a human, not a goddess.

However, we Catholics don’t understand why Protestants don’t have a greater devotion to Mary, especially Protestants who claim to follow Scripture alone. Luke’s Gospel quotes Mary in her Magnificat as saying, “From now on all ages will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me” (Lk 1:48-49). So why wouldn’t all Christians be quick to call her blessed and venerate her?

Mary’s role is to lead us to her Son, to deepen our devotion to Jesus as the Christ, our Savior.

The Catholic Church has four basic dogmas about Mary:

First, she is the mother of God. The Council of Ephesus in 431 solemnly established that Jesus had two natures, a divine and a human, but he was only one person, and Mary was the mother of that person. As St. Cyril of Alexandria said at that council, “That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the mother of God fills me with astonishment. Surely she must be the mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him!”

Second, Mary remained a virgin all her life. Both Luke’s Gospel (Lk 1:35) and Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 1:20) tell us that Mary conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, while remaining a virgin. As for the siblings 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 an older widower who agreed to care for her.

Third, 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 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, according to Catholic teaching it meant that she did not have original sin on her soul.

Fourth, Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. This doctrine, called the Assumption, was not defined as dogma until 1950, but the feast of the Assumption was being celebrated as early as the sixth century. In Jerusalem, the most imposing building on Mount Zion is the Basilica of the Dormition, marking the site where it is believed that Mary died. Mary’s Tomb, empty of course, is near the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a crypt that is all that is left of a Byzantine basilica built in the fourth century. It is from here that she would have been assumed into heaven.

We also believe that Mary has appeared to various people throughout history. Technically speaking, we don’t have to believe in these appearances, but we know the careful way the Church studies each such occurrence before it approves it. The most important of these appearances have been at Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima and Knock.

There are numerous devotions for the Blessed Virgin, but the most important is the rosary, a devotion that has been around since the 12th century.

… Holy Mary, mother of God, prayer for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

—John F. Fink

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