Monday, January 28, 2013

What About Mary? (Or, who are those Catholics worshipping, anyway?)

One of the biggest hurdles I had to "jump" when we were considering becoming Catholic was the issue of Mary.  I had always been told Catholics worshiped Mary.  I knew that wasn't right.  The Scriptures are very clear that only God is to be worshiped.  The night we studied Marian devotion in our RCIA class, I was so determined that this was wrong, wrong, wrong.  I sat back with my arms crossed (and probably a scowl on my face!).  However, as the night progressed, we were told that some things about Mary are "dogma" (simply put, things you must believe to be true to the faith), and some are not.  That set my mind at ease.

Over the past year or so, I have spent a lot of time reading about apparitions of Mary, visions, and saints who were devoted to her.  I have talked to many people, asked a lot of questions, studied a lot, and have prayed even more.

First, let me state clearly that the Catholic Church does NOT teach worship of Mary.  If you know anyone who does that or believes that, they are definitely wrong.  Mary is to be honored as the Mother of Jesus.  She is to be honored for her "fiat" (YES! to God) and her willingness to be used by God to bear His Son.  Her response of:  "be it done unto me according to Thy will" is the most clear example of being surrendered to God.

Second, we do believe she lived a sinless life, because she was "full of grace" and because God allowed His sinless Son to reside in her womb.  God would not allow His Son to receive His humanness from a sinful person.  But it was only by His grace that she was so.  It was only by looking forward to the redemption her Son would earn that she could remain so.

Okay, so what about this "praying to Mary" stuff?  Let's take a look at this.  The Catholic Church has clung to the old term "pray" as it was used back in the times of kings and lords.  When a person had a request, he would say, "I pray thee..." followed by his request.  It was asking the person a favor, not praying TO that person.  If you've read my previous post, you know we believe in the communion of the saints.  That is, when someone dies, they do not cease to exist.  Their soul lives on.  Those in heaven are in the presence of God, and can intercede for us just as our Christian friends on this earth can.

When we say we're "praying to Mary," it is simply our way of saying, "I am asking Mary to intercede for me."  The example of the wedding at Cana is so beautiful.  She saw there was a need, so she went to her Son.  She was interceding for the hosts of the wedding.

And what about this "Mother of God" stuff?  What?  How can God have a mother???  The Church started using this term several centuries ago.  In fact, Elizabeth used a derivative of this name in Luke 1:42-43.  And, at the Council of Ephesus in 431, they addressed this issue.  A man named Nestorius, who was an archbishop, was teaching that using this title was incorrect, because Jesus "was merely the temple of the Word, and if Mary is the Mother of God she has been made a goddess." The decision of the Council was to find Nestorius a heretic, and they reiterated that "Jesus Christ was NOT a mere man on whom the Word descended in some way or to whom the Word was united but distinct, rather He was the Divine eternal Person of the Word, who in time assumed a human nature of Mary, but  remained the Word, the One Christ, 2nd Person of the Trinity, uniting in Himself His Divine Nature and His Incarnate Human Nature."  It's not about her.  It's about Him.  To question this title for Mary is to question Christ's divinity. (For a more complete explanation, go to this link.)

So what about those visions people have?  What's up with that?!  Mary told the servants at the wedding to "do whatever He tells you."  This is the true test of anyone who says they've had a vision of her:  What is the message she gave them?  To whom does she point the visionary?  Because if that is truly Mary, she will be pointing them to her Son.  EVERY TIME.  Mary never wanted anyone to worship her.  She was never trying to draw any attention to herself.  Her desire was for everyone to know who Jesus was/is, and to worship Him alone.  If she appears to anyone at any time, that will be her message.  Most often, the messages have been this:  Repent. Pray.  Know that God loves you and wants you to draw closer to Him.

Okay, so here's the big one.  What about the rosary?  The prayers of the rosary are reflections on the life of Christ--His birth, death, resurrection, ascension, etc.  These prayers are to be a time of meditating on Christ and all He has done for us. We call these "mysteries" simply because it is the ultimate mystery that God became Man, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again...for us!  By taking time to roll these over in our mind, we are continually reminded of His great love and sacrifice.  Any references to Mary in the rosary are still pointing toward Christ.  There is no worship of Mary involved in any way.

There is a set of prayers known as the "Seven Sorrows of Mary".  I've recently become acquainted with these, and would like to share them with you.  They are:  the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the temple, Mary meets Jesus on the way to the cross, Jesus dies on the cross, Mary receives the dead body of her Son, and Jesus is laid in the tomb.  (For Scripture references, click on the link above.)  I cannot tell you what it does to my heart to reflect on these sorrows.  As a mother, I just can't fathom what it did to Mary to experience each of these events.  Raising the Son of God would be so intimidating!  And yet, through it all, she knew that this was God's will, and submitted herself to that will, knowing it must be, in order for us to have salvation.

And truly, would God have chosen anyone who would do otherwise?  Would He have entrusted His Son to someone who would want the glory for themselves?  Someone who would say, "Yes, He's the Son.  But I'm His mother!  A little recognition here!"  No, He chose a simple, humble maiden.  Someone who allowed God's will to be paramount.  Her own suffering as a mother had to be set aside, in deference to the eternal plan of salvation.  Wow.
To me, Mary is the best example of what a disciple of Christ should be.  Humble, and totally devoted to God's grand design for setting sinners free.   And the best example of what a mother should be:  giving her child to God, totally and without hesitation.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen."

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