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My oldest son was born via C-section due to a breech birth. I remember watching the surgeons pull him out of my wife’s open abdomen in the OR. Seeing life come out of life was one of the most disturbingly beautiful things I have ever witnessed. A sight like that will never escape me. Even as my wife suffered a difficult recovery, her nurturing care and attachment to our firstborn was strong as ever. There was something deeply resonating about her love for our children that struck the chords of my heart.
It wasn’t until the moment I became a father that I began to appreciate the role of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Ever since I first abandoned the Catholic faith when I was 18, I had been hesitant to even approach the subject. But I found the more I learned about Mary, the deeper my love for Christ had become.
I remember in high school my Protestant friends questioned me about why Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints. I remember answering them, we honour her as the Mother of Jesus but we certainly do not worship her. I was then told that prayer and worship are synonymous and anything other than God Himself should not receive prayer or honour of any form. After reading a series of anti-Catholic bible tracts given to me by a former friend, I was frightened into believing I was worshipping a makeshift goddess my whole life. Even though my parents tried to explain to me the reasons why the Catholic Church teaches these things, I didn’t want to understand both sides of the issue. At the time, I had already made up my mind to convert to Protestant Evangelicalism.
I attended a non-denominational bible school in my early 20’s. When the role of Mary was the topic of discussion in theology class, I was completely floored by the amount of flippant disrespect some of my classmates had towards her – so much even to go as far as calling her, “Just a worthless, sinful pawn in God’s infinite plan.” I remember responding to their rhetoric, “If somebody referred to MY mother in that derogatory way, I would be pretty upset. Who’s to say that Jesus wouldn’t be offended if somebody disrespected His own mother?”
One of my Catholic friends gave me an audio sermon by Scott Hahn called Discovering the Biblical Significance of Mary. It explained how honouring Mary as the Mother of Jesus has strong biblical parallels to the Old Testament (Exodus 20:12, Matthew 19:19) and that she is the Second Eve and the Ark of the New Covenant because she bore the Son of God in her womb.
I used to view the rosary as a form of punishment. Spending nearly half an hour repeating the same prayers over and over again felt pointlessly mundane. It wasn’t until one of my Catholic friends invited me to a weekly rosary group that I began to have a newfound appreciation for the reflective and meditative qualities of it. One of the most repeated prayers in the rosary is called the Hail Mary. It goes as follows,
“Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee (Luke 1:28). Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus (Luke 1:42). Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
As noted, the first half of the prayer are verses taken directly from the Gospel of Luke. However, some might view the latter part as completely unbiblical. Some might say she is not the Mother of God, but the Mother of Jesus as a human being.
It is important to note Mary is a created human being. Considering Adam and Eve to be the first human beings to be without sin before the fall, both Jesus and Mary are considered to be the Second Adam and Eve in Catholic theology. Although there appears to be an inversion – Christ was born out of Mary in a similar manner that Eve was formed out of a rib from Adam’s side, yet both are extremely supernatural events. The fact that God chose to enter into the world as a human baby born of a human mother is one of the strongest displays of humility I could ever fathom.
According to the parable in Matthew 7:17-18, a good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. In order to produce a sinless God-man in her womb, Mary would have had to be made sinless herself – not by her own doing, but by God’s saving grace alone. Hence, when the angel Gabriel appeared before her and said, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” he seems to emphasize her to be free of Original Sin as a result of God’s grace. Mary even acknowledges God as her Savior in Luke 1:46-47.
Within the context of the Holy Trinity, Jesus was both fully God and fully human. His humanity as well as his divinity must go hand-in-hand in order to be considered the Son of God. If Mary’s God-given sinlessness was completely disregarded, Jesus’ divinity as God in human form would be completely invalidated and he would be nothing more than a fallible man born out of a woman of original sin who claimed to be God Himself.
According to Luke 1:43, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth proclaims, “And how does this concern me, so that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” The phrase ‘Mother of my Lord’ is a modern-day translation of the Greek word Theotokos, which is also directly translated to English as ‘God-bearer.’ Given the many passages in the Old Testament when God the Father is referred to as ‘The Lord’, referring to Mary as strictly the mother of the human Jesus would invalidate His divine nature. Thus, when Elizabeth calls Mary the ‘Mother of my Lord’, she is referring to her as the Mother of God.
Some would also say prayer to anyone other than God Himself is a form of polytheism and breaks the first commandment (Exodus 20:3). This provokes the question, what is prayer?
According to Roman Catholic theology, prayer is completely separate from worship. Prayer is supposed to be an earnest request or plea to someone for help. Even in Old-English, when someone asks a favour of someone else they usually say, “I pray thee!” Basically, when I ask for someone to ‘pray’ for me, I am ‘praying’ to them to intercede to God on my behalf. The phrasing is especially evident in the King James translation of the Bible. For example,
“Then said Absalom, If not, I pray thee, let my brother Amnon go with us. And the king said unto him, Why should he go with thee?” – 2 Samuel 13:26 KJV
Then comes the argument, “Dead saints and angels cannot hear our prayers, otherwise that would be considered necromancy.” Was it not the Archangel Gabriel who appeared before Mary in the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)? Did Moses and Elijah not appear to Peter and James in the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13)? If the Saints and Angels were not aware of the events happening on Earth, are they not the ‘cloud of witnesses’ as described in Hebrews 12:1? If we consider the Saints to be alive in Heaven, how is it wrong to ask for their intercession in the same manner we would ask our Christian brothers and sisters on Earth to intercede on our behalf?
Regarding Mary in this matter, the Bible does not document how, when or where she died. However, historical tradition suggests that Mary was bodily and spiritually taken up into heaven in the same manner Elijah was in the Old Testament, which the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches call the Assumption of Mary. Considering these parallels, I don’t believe it’s far-fetched that God would give such an honor to the one who bore Him, fed Him, bathed Him, raised Him and stood by His side during His life, crucifixion and death.
I’m not in any way twisting anyone’s arm into praying to someone other than Jesus if the idea feels uncomfortable. When all is said and done, regardless of Christian denomination, I think we can all agree everything to do with the Virgin Mary revolves around who Jesus really is. As a husband and a father, I believe giving honor to Mary biblically and historically reflects the nature of God and His relationship with the Church.
“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord. And my spirit leaps for joy in God my Saviour. For he has looked with favor on the humility of his handmaid. For behold, from this time, all generations shall call me blessed.”
– Luke 1:46-48 CPDV