Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mary: Part II "Praying to Mary"

Step with me back into a distant, strange, ancient world. Here on the banks of the Tiber River, soldiers violently hit someone who does not bow when a leader moves past. The king is addressed on shaking knees with the vainglorious, sycophantic "most just and trusted king of kings, kind lord..." or the queen mother is petitioned with a plethora of flatteries. Christians trace a little cross on their forehead to get into the secret worship services. 

As independent, free 21st-century Americans, we resent the idea of being placed back into that time, but we must be careful not to judge our Christian ancestors, they had no choice. This culture is where Marian Dogma was born. They chose to honor Mary as Queen Mother as a statement to the Romans that their true allegiance was not to an earthly kingdom, but to a Christian kingdom. They were forced to kiss the king's ring, but they chose to kiss the hands of their bishops in full view of the Roman officers as a symbol of their true freedom in Christ as their King of Kings. 

Early Christians believed that those great men and women who died by torture for their faith were honored by God in heaven (II Tim. 2:11, 12, "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him...." See also Rom. 8:17) They were given the responsibility to help those who remained on earth. Mary, as Queen Mother in heaven, is also there helping in the salvation of mankind. (This is reflected in the New Testament idea that we are a nations of priests, a royal priesthood. I Peter 2:9) So we can "pray" to these saints (translation: plead, petition, ask, beseech) these people to pray for us in the exact same way that we are to ask our earthly family, friends and spiritual mentors to pray for us. The Apostle Paul was constantly "praying" for those who he wrote letters to pray for him and each other. 

Asking Mary to pray for us in no way substitutes for prayer to God. Mary is just a human like we are. But the saints in heaven are not idle. They are busy ministering to us just like the angels.  Because many American Catholics understand the usage confusion in the word "pray" to Mary, they avoid using it. Catholics would never want anyone to think they are worshipping Mary. 

Last year I was reminded that not too long ago in America the word pray was more general. When I was standing in court after a traffic ticket, I was advised to "pray" to the judge for leniency because of my past record. It is officially called a "prayer for judgment." 

Some older Catholics (pre-Vatican II) still kneel in front of statues of saints in heaven and invoke their prayers. Again, this goes back to the days when you knelt before your superiors. It is meant as an honor and not worship. Catholics believe that we all are the body of Christ--both the saints on earth and the ones in heaven. As His Body we actively participate in the salvation of others. However, we are not Christ; we become invisible as we point others to Christ. Our prayers for each other, our honor of each other--what we do for each other is done for and to Him. So honoring Mary does not take away honor for Christ anymore than honor for a man's son takes away honor from the man. It IS honoring Christ when we honor His mother and His children. So when we ask Mary to pray for us, we are asking her--as a human to another human friend, to pray for us and in unity we lift up the Corpus Christi.

The Joys of Catholic Mary Part I

"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:28)
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death."

As I sat dangling my legs off the church bench at my great-grandmother's funeral, there was something cold, distant and unfeeling in the chanting of these words. This prayer to Mary was a pagan, idolatrous rite; it didn't feel like the Christianity I had known in my short life. Whew, I was safe, warm and comfortable in my Seventh-day Adventist church the next Sabbath. I never really thought about it again for thirty years.....

Mary. There is no word that encapsulates the unbridgeable great divide between Protestants and Catholics as her name. She symbolizes to the Protestant the idolatrous, scripture-rejecting, Jesus-demeaning rituals of the Catholics. She is the first name invoked as a plea to reject Catholicism---Catholics worship Mary.

Why I would even attempt, as a new Catholic, to venture into that deep, dense thicket of theology is madness. But eventually I will have to answer the accusations that I now worship Mary. I don't and neither do Catholics.

So where to start? First I will list the five Marian Dogmas of the church. These are what Catholics believe, any claims outside these are traditions that you may reject.

1. Mary is the Mother of God.
2. Mary was a virgin before, during and after carrying the baby Christ.
3. Mary was immaculately conceived.
4. Mary was assumed into heaven.
5. Mary is the mother of the church.

Three of the five Marian dogmas were decreed in the last century and a half. For 18 centuries they were considered tradition. What these dogmas mean, why were they instituted, the history of Mary and how Marian Dogma are based on scripture will be briefly dealt with.

Let's begin with statement about Mary from the Catholic Catechism (#273):

Only faith can embrace the holy mysterious ways of God's almighty power. This faith glories in its weakness in order to draw to itself to Christ's power. The Virgin Mary is the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that "nothing will be impossible with God" and was able to magnify the Lord, "For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name."