I had long been dissatisfied with the Protestant habit of virtually ignoring Jesus’ mother. It seems we brought her out only for our Nativity scenes at Christmas (after all, you can’t have a birth without a mother), but as soon as we could, we would stuff her back into the storage shed and try to ignore her for the rest of the year.
But I also wasn’t comfortable with what I perceived an inordinate emphasis on Mary among Catholics. Unfortunately, over the years I’d encountered people who’d been so enthusiastic in their devotion to Our Lady that they seemed to regard her as a fourth Person of the Godhead, seemed more excited about her than about her Son. I was very uncomfortable when I heard Catholics speak of praying to Mary, or refer to her as Mediatrix or as Queen of Heaven. I was uncomfortable with the Rosary, preferring instead the Chaplet of Divine Mercy which directly addresses “Eternal Father”. I didn’t know where the balance would be found, but I kept coming back to my original thought: if the Church is right about the Real Presence….
I had no trouble accepting her title “Mother of God” or Theotokos (literally, God-bearer) because it reflects Jesus’ divinity, not her own.
And I learned soon thereafter that the Church makes a clear distinction between worship, which is due only to God, and veneration, which may be given to the saints, and the highest form of veneration, which is accorded Mary.
Shortly after the visit at the Sacred Heart parish office, I was watching tv when BBCAmerica was re-broadcasting their tribute to Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on her 100th birthday. That’s when it clicked for me. The Queen Mother, was not the monarch, but her husband was king during WWII, and her daughter, Elizabeth II is now reigning monarch of Great Britain. The British people were simply wild about “the Queen Mum,” she held a very precious place in their hearts. And it occurred to me, what a marvelous analogy this was Jesus is King of Kings; Mary, His mother, is like “Queen Mum” of Heaven.
We have three incidents where Mary is recorded to have spoken: at the Annunciation, when she responds to the angel’s announcement with the humble Fiat, “Be it done to me according to thy word;” her song of praise, the Magnificat, sung when she is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth; and finally, at the wedding feast in Cana, when she tells the servants, “Whatever my son tells you, do it ” But those three instances deserve more attention and honor than they’ve ever received in any Protestant church of my background. Those words, plus her faithfulness from the Annunciation to the Upper Room at Pentecost, make her a powerful model for any practicing Christian.
I came to realize that the Rosary, a Marian devotion which made me squirm for so long, is really a series of reflections on key events of Jesus’ life. The “Hail, Mary,” central prayer of the Rosary, is taken from the Annunciation and from Elizabeth’s greeting, both in Luke 2. We repeat and fulfill Scripture in praying the Rosary.
Then I heard a tape by Dr. Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister and convert to Catholicism, in which he described Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, having borne in her body the Messiah, the Covenant-Maker. This image struck me as profound, and it led to another realization: by receiving in her body the conception of the Lord Jesus, she becomes the Bride of the Holy Spirit, in a unique spousal relationship with God, making her worthy of greater respect and honor than I had ever been taught, as a Type of the Bride of Christ, the Church.
My grasping the truth and beauty of Mary’s unique spousal relationship with God also brought into focus for me the Church’s teaching of her perpetual virginity. I had thought this issue a hair-splitter until quite late in the process, but I have come to understand that it is crucial in the Church’s covenant theology. The Protestant English translations indicate that Mary and Joseph had other children – at one point Jesus is told his mother and brothers are looking for Him. However, the scriptural evidence seems stronger to the contrary. For one thing, the ancient (and some modern) languages do not distinguish between close relatives – there is no separate word for cousin, for example, in either Greek or in modern Thai.
But also, if Mary were not perpetually virgin, an intended state from the time preceding her marriage to Joseph, her ability to conceive the Messiah would not have been such a puzzle to her in Luke 2; it might logically have been taken for granted that the Child would have been conceived after the impending marriage. Also, it seems unlikely that Mary could have traveled as extensively as the Gospels record, had she had other children to care for or to live with. Too, had Mary borne other children, it would have been unnecessary for Jesus to provide her with a home after His death; instead, He gives her to John, the beloved disciple. And through John He gives her to us, to take into our homes as His mother and now ours, for us also to become her son(s).
Most of all, because Mary accepted the role given to her by God as mother of His Son, it was necessary that she remain pure in body as His Spouse. Her constancy mirrors the purity of her heart and soul, provided from the time of her conception by the work of Christ even before His Incarnation (called, consequently, the Immaculate Conception). Mary bore in her body the New Covenant of God; her perpetual virginity reflects her spousal fidelity to God.
Then it became easier to recognize her as the Mother of the Church. In the Book of Romans, Paul speaks of our adoption as sons by God, so that we become joint-heirs with Christ, the true-born Son. It makes sense that, if Jesus is God’s Son and Mary’s Son, then when we receive our adoption as children of God, we also become her children. And in Revelation 12, every Protestant Church I’ve even attended admits that the woman and the Child are Mary and Jesus – but none has ever acknowledged that the dragon goes in search of the woman’s other children, who must of necessity be us, the “sons of adoption.”
With those reflections in mind, it wasn’t hard to begin praying to her. After all, ever since my first commitment to Christ, back in the ‘70’s, I’d always been told “Prayer is simply talking to God.” Well, talking to someone isn’t worshiping them, so it didn’t make sense to treat “talking with” Mary as an act of worship. Moreover, whereas Protestants equate worship with the entire program of hymns, prayers, and sermons of the church service, Catholics view worship as the reverence with which we view the Consecration and receive Christ in the Eucharist; the reading of the Word, hymns and prayers are the preparation for worship. And I learned, too, that we don’t pray to Mary as we pray to God, with specific requests for her to grant; rather, we request her (and by the way, the saints’) intercession and help, much in the same manner as I’d done countless times when I’ve picked up the telephone and called a friend, “Hey Can you pray for so-and-so?” But because of who Mary is, her prayers, we assume, get special consideration from her Son, just as her request for His assistance at the wedding of Cana received His special consideration. This is why she is known by the Church as Mediatrix.
It all began to make beautiful, glorious sense. There could be no turning back, even though I couldn’t be brought into the Church right away – by having remarried after being divorced, and with Rusty also having been divorced, there would have to be a long process of resolving what the Church recognizes as an invalid marriage.