Yesterday, I overheard a Catholic and Protestant asking each other, “Are you Christian?”
The Catholic insisted that she wasn’t a Christian while the Protestant affirmed she was a “true” believer in Jesus Christ. I jumped in to clarify a misunderstanding on the Catholic’s part on the understanding of what a Christian actually is and how they’re one. However, her Protestant friend cut me off and stated, “Catholics are not Christians because they don’t believe in Jesus but believe in the Virgin Mary.” The Catholic agreed and stated, “Yeah, we Catholics believe in many gods and that’s what makes us different.”
On a basic level, I tried to affirm the authentic Catholic Church’s belief in the nature of God and the Holy Trinity. What I stated wasn’t my opinion or trying to “Shove my religion down someone’s throat” but really a fact that’s readily accessible on Britannica Encyclopedia about what Catholics believe. Despite my attempt at trying to explain the orthodox position, the Catholic surprisingly dismissed basic facts on Christianity. As a result, the Catholic walked away maintaining idolatrous views.
Although the topic of “Are you a Christian?” is important and might be addressed at a different time, the focus I’d like to point to is providing some reasons we honor/venerate Mary. This conversation I intervened in made me revisit orthodox/unorthodox views of Marian devotion. I’m truly surprised to have discovered on the internet that many pagans, extreme fringe Catholics, and Wiccans actually worship Mary as a Goddess. No, not showing her proper honor as the Mother of God, but actually see her as a deity. Literally, there are tons of people who view Mary as Creator of the universe, member of the Trinity, or a demigod that deserves worship as God. All of which are radically insane ideas.
Outside looking in, it would seem from non-Catholics that Mary worship is apparent. I can remember when I was a Reformed Christian, I thought this too. I saw the icons and statues of Mary and immediately screamed “idolatry”. I saw people standing under statues praying and screamed “idolatry ” even louder. Most of all, I heard Mary as the Queen of Heaven and was like, “(facepalm) Ok, now you’re killing me with this one.” To outsiders, everything seems to be so adorned in Mary. I’ve heard some even go as far as saying Mary is the central person of “Roman Catholicism” than Jesus Christ is. Using the word “Roman” to differentiate between Christianity and some foreign kind of Christianity that Catholics practice.
Initially, the Marian dogmas were an issue. I was so stuck in my Calvinist leanings that I didn’t want to give her the rightful honor she deserves as the Mother of God. But something changed, I read several excerpts by Fathers of the Church between the 2nd-9th centuries and became convinced of Mary’s ancient history. Big shout out to St. John of Damascus. In the early church, he was a huge Mary apologist and his writings were crucial for providing me a near modern-day perspective on the Marian dogmas.
The debate to me is really dead when I think of a key attribute of God which is Him being eternal, existing outside of time and space. In contrast, Mary had a beginning. She was conceived by her parents in the normal means of procreation. This makes her a creature, not a divine being who self-exists.
Some confuse the Immaculate Conception of Mary with the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Many immediately think of her being conceived without a trace of original sin, this makes her birth similar to Jesus’. They’re not even remotely similar. The Immaculate Conception states that the merits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice were retroactively applied to Mary. The Virgin Birth states that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of Mary while she remained a virgin.
God gave Jesus a divine nature, and Mary provided Christ with human nature. It was fitting that Jesus was born in a vessel free from any stain of Original Sin because he is God. God can’t have sin on him. Newborns have the stain of original sin (which is why the Church baptizes Infants), so if Mary wasn’t immaculately conceived Jesus would have it too. This would be problematic for Christ’s saving mission on earth. Mary indeed had a savior, her son. But just as the sacrifice happened two thousand years ago and still influences people today, this indicates that its efficacy is eternal, not limited to 30-33AD. Furthermore, God is eternal. He can see all of the time in His display, so his Son’s sacrifice was applied to Mary at her conception thereby making her prevented from sin and endowed in grace.
Another prime reason Mary is special is John 19:26-27. Jesus while on the cross notices his mother and one of his disciples. Jesus in a moment of being selfless and obedient, utters to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. ” The Catholic perspective understands this verse as Mary becoming the Mother of the Church. John, like all the followers of Christ, represents all believers across the world and nation. John and the disciples became brothers to Jesus Christ by adoption and by placing Mary into his disciples’ care, she becomes their mother and ours. Moreover, in the book of Acts Mary is present with the disciples offering her support and prayers (Acts 1:14). Even at the early stages of the Church, she is at its foundation aiding with intercession.
There’s a wonderful movie on Netflix called Full of Grace, that depicts the role of Mary in the apostolic church. You can view her offering critical guidance and direction to Peter as he makes difficult decisions about the Church he must head against heresy and him turning to Mary with her privileged position as Mother. See the apostles understood it better than we did: to know the Mother is to be closer to the eternal Son. No one certainly didn’t fall to their feet and offer Mary sacrifices, but what they did do was turn to the Blessed Mother in times of distress which made them more intimate with Jesus’ will. After watching this film, it became clear to me just how vital Mary was as a spiritual Mother to her children, the disciples.
We honor the Blessed Virgin Mary because she has been raised above all creatures to bring into this sinful world the Savior. This Monday, the Church celebrated a memorial called “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church” which Cardinal Robert Sarah described as, “This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored….the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.”
Friends, this is the heart of why Mary is important. She is the cause of our joy in Christ. Her cooperation with God opened the pathway to redeem us. This is why we can honor her as Theotokos (God-Bearer).
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