Thursday, July 26, 2012

Her Children Rise Up and Call Her Blessed: Reflections on Marian Devotion

My journey into the Catholic Faith reached its 5 year mark this past Easter.  I’ve learned a lot over that time.  One of those things is that there’s a lot more to learn and that I likely will never learn it all.  One of the areas of learning I am undergoing is in regard to Marian Devotion. 

As a Protestant all the things the Catholic Church believes about Mary scared me.  I thought Catholics worshiped Mary.  I thought it was idolatrous and offensive to God.  I have discovered it is nothing of the kind, but rather that it is something good, encouraged, and even necessary.

What do we mean when we speak of devotion to Mary?  We simply mean that we recognize that the saints are alive and well and continuously interceding on our behalf (see Heb. 12:1; Rev. 5:8; 8:3).  Mary is among the saints.  In fact, we believe she is queen over them all.  So it stands to reason that she is constantly engaged in prayer on our behalf.  So we pray, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”  Notice that we are not worshiping Mary.  We are asking for her prayers.  This is similar to calling up a trusted Christian friend and asking them to pray for you.  Only it’s better because Mary is in the very presence of our Lord and her relationship is such with Him that her prayers are more effective than the best of us ever would be.  Note also that we refer to her as the Mother of God.  This is a very precise theological term hammered out at the Council of Ephesus in 431.  Its intent is to safeguard the doctrine of the incarnation: Jesus is truly and fully God.  Therefore to refer to Mary only as the Mother of Christ and not as the Mother of God was deemed to undercut the incarnation.  So the Church determined that this would become one of her proper titles.

The Church has also defined a couple of other things about Mary.  She is Immaculate, which is to say, she was conceived without sin by a special grace of God due to the merits purchased by our Lord on the cross.  Mary needed a savior just like we do: “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,” (Lu. 1:47).  The difference is that she was saved from ever experiencing sin whereas we are saved from being in sin.  The Church also calls Mary Ever-Virgin to emphasize that once she gave birth to our Lord her womb was sacred space and could not be returned to common usage.

With all these things in mind Catholics believe that Mary is our Mother as well as the Lord’s.  She was given to John when our Lord hung upon the cross (Jn. 19:25-27) and the Church teaches that by extension she was given to the Church as our Mother.  Another way to see this is to acknowledge that if we who believe in Jesus are in Him then His Mother naturally becomes ours.  So it is that we come to what it means to be devoted to Mary.  It means that we love her and honor her as we would our own mothers. 

In the hymn the Church calls the Magnificat we hear Mary say these words: “Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” (Lu. 1:48).  What does this mean?  I believe it is tied to what is said in Proverbs 31:28- “Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her.”  When we call our mothers blessed it is only meaningful if we act like they are.  No mother is pleased if her children call her blessed and then ignore her and disobey everything she says.  Rather a woman is honored when her children act like she is indeed blessed.  So it is with our Mother.  When we call her blessed it is a statement of relationship.  It means that we are intent on listening to what she is saying and obeying her.  So what is she saying? The same as she has always said: “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye,” (Jn. 2:5).  Mary always points us to Jesus and devotion to her has its end in union with Him.  This is why the Church emphasizes it so much. 

It has taken a long time for me to shake my previous biases against our Blessed Mother.  But now that I have I am beginning to discover the wonderful treasure she is to us.  I want to encourage all to explore this aspect of our faith more deeply so as to discover this treasure and rise up and indeed call her blessed.  When our hearts are being formed by her direction we shall indeed be in the deepest union with our Lord Jesus Christ and made fit for heaven.  Isn’t this our goal?  Then why not avail ourselves of every means necessary to attain it, especially this one which was given by our Lord Himself?

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is
the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen!”