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WHY DO CATHOLICS VENERATE THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY?

"... when the appointed time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman ... to enable us to be adopted ... (Gal.4:4-5)". The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honours this woman Mary, with filial affection and devotion as a most beloved mother (Lumen Gentium, .53).

In the great Marian churches of the world, such as Notre Dame de Paris, and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the central act of worship is the Mass - the Lord's supper, the bloodless re- enactment of His sacrifice on Calvary. The focus of worship is the altar, cross and tabernacle. Christ alone is the centre of our faithWe are, however, a fallen race. God, in his goodness, has given us guides to take us to Jesus Christ, the light of the nations. Catholics, since the time of the Apostles, have found in Mary a sure guide. Moreover, the relationship between the believer and Mary is more than that of a pilgrim and a guide. The relationship is maternal. She is our Mother. This is the source of the richness of Marian devotion in the Church.

1. Mary in the Plan of Salvation:

"Committing herself whole-heartedly and impeded by no sin to God's saving will, (Mary) devoted herself totally ... to the person and work of her Son, under and with Him, serving the mystery of redemption ... " (L.G. .56). John Paul II has noted Mary's exceptional pilgrimage of faith as a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals and communities (Redemptoris Mater, .6).

Mary was introduced into the mystery of Christ by the Annunciation. She was greeted by the Archangel Gabriel not by her name "Mary", but by the significant words "so highly favoured", which would be elaborated by her cousin Elizabeth, "Of all women you are the most blessed..." (Lk. 1:28-42). In the visitation to Elizabeth, we are made aware not only of Mary's favoured state before God, but also of her virtue of practical charity.

Above all, believers are asked to grow in intimacy with the person of Jesus. During the years of Jesus' hidden life in the home at Nazareth, Mary's life was "hidden with Christ in God" (cf. Col. 3:3). The first human creature permitted to discover Christ was Mary; however, the finding of Jesus teaching in the temple (Lk. 2:42-50) reveals that she did not always understand the mystery with whom she lived. She persevered only through faith. Through this faith, Mary is perfectly united with Jesus in his self-emptying, saving act on the Cross (R.M. ..6, 8, 12, 17, 18).

The Cross, the instrument of our redemption, is also the place of Christ's donation of his mother to his believers. In addressing the beloved apostle John, the Lord speaks to all Christians: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn. 19:27). Each of us is invited, like John, "to take her to his own home."

2. The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church:

In a unique way, Mary co-operated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason, she is a mother to us in the order of grace. Catholics, in seeking to conquer sin and increase in holiness, turn to Mary who shines forth to the Church as the model of virtues. She displays that motherly love which all, who join in the Church's mission to humanity, should embrace and display (L.G. ..60, 61, 65).

Mary is intimately linked to the Church's mission. Just as she was present at the Incarnation, the coming of Jesus, so she was present at the birth of the Church at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Her maternal care continued after the Resurrection as she prayed with the disciples in the upper room, the Cenacle. Catholics believe that, after a period of time among the disciples, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. From there, she continues her mission of prayer and bringing people to salvation in Jesus. Should we then be surprised that Mary has appeared to individuals throughout the centuries, even to our own day?

Although much Catholic teaching has developed concerning Mary, it has been mixed with the piety of the ordinary faithful. In the life of the Church, in the conservation and nourishing of its living tradition, often the law of prayer is ahead of the law of belief. That is to say, the sense of the faithful as to what is true often precedes formal teaching. For example, for several centuries, feasts celebrated Mary's sinless conception and glorious assumption, but it was only within the last 150 years that they were defined as dogmas of the faith.

Only the bishops in communion with the Pope (the "magesterium") can teach authoritatively the teachings of Christ. Abuses and exaggerated practices surrounding veneration of the Blessed Virgin have been corrected, in the past, by the Church's teaching office. It has been, however, its chief aim to promote true devotion to Mary. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) gave an important thrust to understanding the Virgin's role within the Church. Rather than issue a separate document on Mary, the Council Fathers incorporated their teaching on her within the constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. As Mary was intimately linked to the earthly ministry of her Son, so she is intimately linked to the Church which carries on her Son's ministry through time until He returns again.

3. Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Church:

The veneration given to Mary differs essentially from that given to God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Church regulates the Marian forms of piety to ensure that the Triune God is known, loved and glorified (L.G. .66). Official Marian devotion forms a very noble part of the whole sphere of sacred worship which mixes wisdom and religion and which is, therefore, the primary task of believers (Paul VI, Marialis Cultis, Introduction).

In the liturgical calender of the Church, one can share and be nourished by Our Lady's journey of faith. The feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th), and the period of Advent, bring the faithful to think about the love with which the Virgin Mother awaited her Son. They are invited to take her as a model and prepare themselves to meet the Saviour who is to come. The Solemnity of Mary, the holy Mother of God, on January 1st, commemorates the part played by Mary in the history of salvation. It occurs within the octave of Christmas and is a fitting occasion for adoring the new born Prince of Peace. Pope Paul VI, highlighting this gift of peace, instituted January 1st as World Day of Peace.

March 25th is the Solemnity of the Incarnation of the Word (Annunciation of the Lord). It is a joint feast of Christ and the Blessed Virgin which marks the beginning of redemption and the union of the divine nature and human nature in the one person of Jesus. It celebrates the generous "fiat" of Our Lady to God - "let what you have said be done to me" (Lk. 1:38). It is a unique consent in the history of salvation. The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is celebrated on August 15th. It sets before Christians, indeed before all of humanity, their final hope which is their glorification through the saving act of Jesus Christ.

In addition to the four Solemnities, there are a number of other celebrations in the calender which commemorate other events in which Mary was closely associated with her Son - the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8th), the Visitation (May 31st), Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15th), Presentation of the Lord (February 2nd). There are other Marian feasts which were associated with local churches and which have taken on universal importance, such as Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11th). Some of the most carefully researched miracles in the history of Christianity have occurred at the Grotto of Lourdes in France.

There have been special interventions of Mary in local churches. She appeared at Fatima in Portugal in 1917 with a message of prayer and reparation for the salvation of souls. In addition to this Gospel message, the Virgin prophesied certain events in history which, some suggest, included the recent collapse of Communism. In Mexico in 1531, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to an Aztec peasant, Juan Diego, at which time she declared herself as "your merciful mother; to you and all inhabitants of the earth". As proof of her visit and concern, she left her image on the cloak, the tilma, of Juan Diego which is still displayed more than four hundred years later in the Basilica near Mexico City. More importantly, her appearance was the impetus to the evangelization of Mexico. Within a few years, eight million Indians were baptized.

Mary brings us to her Son. It is the acid test of proper devotion to Our Lady. Intimacy with Jesus can only be assured through sincere and persevering prayer. Two Marian prayers which have received continuous Papal support are the Angelus and the Rosary (M.C. ..40-55). The Angelus commends itself on several points: its simple structure, biblical character, historical link to the prayer for peace and safety, its rhythm which sanctifies different moments of the day, and its remembrance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Rosary has been called "the compendium of the entire Gospel". It draws from the Gospel the mysteries and its prayers. The Rosary considers in succession the principal salvific events accomplished in Christ. In addition to elements of praise and petition, the quiet rhythm and lingering pace of the Rosary is conducive to contemplation. It is highly adaptable to individual or group recital, and is ideally suited for family prayer.

Christ is the only way to the Father (Jn. 14:4-11), and the ultimate example for the Christian. The Catholic Church has always taught this and nothing in its pastoral activity should obscure this teaching. The Church has taught, however, by the Holy Spirit and by the benefit of centuries of experience, that authentic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has a great pastoral effectiveness and constitutes a force for renewing Christian life. Ultimately, Mary challenges us with the person and message of Jesus: "Do whatever he tells you." (Jn. 2:5)

Mary spoke, "Behold, generations to come will call me most blessed."  

 

Mary was born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit

There is no truth in this statement at all. In fact, we know the names of Mary's mother, and her father. Mary was the only child of Anne, and her husband Joachim. The confusion of the above statement probably stems from a misunderstanding of what Immaculate Conception means. Mary was born of an Immaculate Conception, which means she was born without the stain of original sin.

So Christ could be conceived without sin, Mary was conceived without sin

This statement shows an attempt to explain Mary's Immaculate Conception; however it is wrong. If this were the case, Mary's parents, Anne and Joachim, would both have to been born of an Immaculate Conception. And like wise, their parents, and their parents, and so on. This is defiantly not the case. The conception of Jesus was the Miraculous Conception, which means he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and by virtue of his divinity was kept free of original sin. Mary's conception was the same as any other conception except she received God's gift of being preserved from all stain of original sin. God, who is not limited to time, willed that the mother of his son would receive the gift of salvation from the time of her conception. Others could only receive this gift after the Son of God completed his mission of salvation.

The reason God did this is quite easy to understand. If you were the ruler of a country, and your only son was about to take a tour of your country, what type of vehicle would give him for this tour? Suppose there were only two vehicles to choose from: a luxurious, chauffeured limousine with every conceivable convenience; or a rusted out pickup truck with no muffler, and a clutch that is worn-out from using the reverse gear to stop because the breaks do not work. The answer to this question is obviously the limousine. So it is with Mary, only on a much grander scale.

There is another reason that is even more important. When the angel Gabriel greeted Mary, he called her Full of Grace. This means exactly what it says, Mary was without sin, and therefore full of God's grace. Why was it important that Mary be full of grace and with out sin? The Catholic Church has another title for Mary, the Ark of the Covenant, this is because for nine months Christ, who is true God, dwelt within her. Her womb was like the Holy of Holies of the old covenant. Those who walked in the presence of the Holy of Holies did so in fear and trembling, if they were not worthy they would be killed. This is why, before they went into the Holy of Holies, they would put bells on and ropes, if they were struck dead, the others would hear the bells and pull the body out with the ropes. The others would not dare to go in to retrieve the body for fear they too would be killed. So it is with the human body that became the Holy of Holies, if she was not without sin and full of grace, she would have died.

Mary ascended into heaven just as Jesus did

The confusion here is with the words ascension and assumption. There is an important difference between how Jesus went to heaven and how Mary went to heaven. Jesus ascended into heaven with the power given to him by the Father, but Mary was assumed into heaven. This means that Jesus took Mary into heaven by his power, not hers. Since she was conceived without sin, and received salvation at the time of her conception, she did not lie in an earthly tomb, but was taken into heaven.

 

Mary and the Saints

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is actually a saint, so we will start by discussing saints. The Catholic Church teaches a communion of saints that unites the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven, all under Christ, who is the head. The angels, though not redeemed, are also in the communion of saints because they too are under Christ. All the people on earth, even though not members of the true Church, also share in this communion according to their union with Christ. Those not included in the communion of saints are the damned, such as the fallen angels of Satan and those who have died and do not merit redemption.

As well as the communion of saints, the Catholic Church gives special status to beatified and canonized saints. These individuals are nothing more than friends and servants of God whose holy lives have made them worthy of His special love. It is believed that these saints are not in purgatory but in heaven, and therefore in perfect communion with God. The process of beatification or canonization is a lengthy one that investigates the reputation, miracles, and possible martyrdom associated with the individual. Confirmed miracles must have been worked through the intercession of this individual after their death.

Catholics worship pictures and statues This is not true

This is completely untrue. The pictures and statues of Jesus and the saints are only reminders of those who have pleased the Father. It is no different then having pictures of loved ones, especially those that have passed away. Particular honor and respect are given to the cross and to the crucifix for what they represent, the ultimate love and sacrifice of Jesus.

We cannot deny that abuses occur among people that are not knowledgeable of their faith. Superstition has led some to use religious objects as charms. This is condemned by the Church as a violation of the First Commandment of God. Practices such as voodoo are not Catholic, but are practices of people that mix Catholic beliefs with pagan beliefs. This is strictly forbidden by the Catholic Church.

There is one physical object that is worshipped and adored by Catholics, the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Because the Catholic Church takes Christ's words literally, they believe that when the bread and wine are consecrated they become physically the Body and Blood of Christ. If this is the true Body and Blood of Christ, the First Commandment of God is not violated; Christ, who is true God, one with the Father and Holy Spirit, should be worshipped.

Catholics worship and pray to Mary, angels, and saints

This is true; however, the definition of worship and pray must be explained. The word pray has two main definitions: to ask for something; and to address a divinity. When Catholics pray to Mary, the angels, or the canonized saints, they are not addressing a divinity but a fellow saint. This is not much different then asking a fellow saint on earth to pray for you, except Mary, the angels, and the canonized saints are in heaven, and therefore in perfect communion with God. Since these saints are closer to God because they have received redemption, their prayers are more powerful then us saints still on earth, who are working out our redemption. The only time Catholics address a divinity when they pray, is when they are praying to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The word worship is especially hard to define. Many people worship famous people such as Lady Diana, or Elvis Presley; as well, it is a British title for people of importance, such as judges or mayors. This is clearly not the same as when we worship God. Catholic theologians give a clear definition of the different types of worship: latria, the adoration due only to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; dulia, the respect and honor given to the angels and canonized saints; hyperdulia, a higher honor given to Mary because of her special role in God plan of salvation; and civilitas, the respect and honor given to individuals in our society. With these definitions we can see how worship can be applied to different beings without violating the First Commandment of God.

Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?

There are many instances in the New Testament where "brothers" and "sisters" of the Lord are mentioned.

"While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to
him" (Matt. 12:46).

"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:3).

"For even his brothers did not believe in him" (John 7:5).

"All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers" (Acts 1:14).

"Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?" (1 Cor. 9:5).

When trying to understand these verses, the first thing to notice that the term "brother" (Greek: adelphos) has a very wide meaning in the Bible. It is not restricted to the literal meaning of a full brother or half-brother. The same goes for "sister" (adelphe) and the plural form "brothers" (adelphoi).

The Old Testament shows that the term "brother" had a very wide semantic range of meaning and could refer to any male relative from whom you are not descended (male relatives from whom you are descended are known as "fathers"), as well as kinsman such as cousins, those who are members of the family by marriage or law though not related to you by blood, and even friends or mere political allies (1 Sam. 9:13; 20:32; 2 Sam. 1:26; Amos 1:9).

Lot, for example, is called Abraham's "brother" (Gen. 14:14), even though, being the son of Aran, Abraham's brother (Gen. 11:26-28), he was actually Abraham's nephew. Similarly, Jacob is called the "brother" of his uncle Laban (Gen. 29:15). Kish and Eleazar were the sons of Mahli. Kish had sons of his own, but Eleazar had no sons, only daughters, who married their "brethren," the sons of Kish. These "brethren" were really their cousins (1 Chron. 23:21-22).

The terms "brothers," "brother," and "sister" did not refer only to close relatives, as in the above examples. Sometimes they meant kinsman (Deut. 23:7, Neh. 5:7, Jer. 34:9), as in the reference to the forty-two "brethren" of King Azariah (2 Kings 10:13-14).

Because neither Hebrew nor Aramaic (the language spoken by Christ and his disciples) had a special word meaning "cousin." speakers of those languages used either the word for "brother" or a circumlocution, such as "the son of the sister of my father." But circumlocutions are clumsy, so the Jews naturally enough took to using "brother."

When they wrote in Greek, they did the same thing the translators of the Septuagint did. (The Septuagint was the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible; it was translated by Hellenistic Jews a century or two before Christ's birth and was the version of the Bible from which most of the Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament are taken.)

In the Septuagint the Hebrew word that includes both brothers and cousins was translated as adelphos, which in Greek usually has the narrow meaning that the English "brother" has. Unlike Hebrew or Aramaic, Greek has a separate word for cousin, anepsios, but the translators of the Septuagint favored adelphos, even for true cousins. You might say they transliterated instead of translated, importing the Jewish idiom into the Greek Bible. This same usage was employed by the writers of the New Testament and passed into English translations of the Bible.

When Jesus was found in the Temple at age twelve, the context suggests that he was the only son of Mary and Joseph. There is no hint in this episode of any other children in the family (Luke 2:41-51).

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and the people of Nazareth referred to him as "the son of Mary" (Mark 6:3), not as "a son of Mary." The Greek expression implies he is her only son. In fact, others in the Gospels are never referred to as Mary's sons, not even when they are called Jesus' "brethren." If they were in fact her sons, this would be strange usage.

There are other passages that indicate that the "brethren" of Jesus were older than He, and therefore not "brothers" in the literal sense, since Jesus was Mary's "firstborn".

But for me, the most telling point was at the crucifixion when, his death immanent, Christ gives care of his mother to John. "When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:26-27). Now the Gospels mention four of his "brethren," James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude. It is hard to imagine why Jesus would have disregarded family ties and made this provision for his mother if these four were also her sons.