Does the Catholic Church make too much of Mary?
We call her the Mother of God and sing her praises in litanies filled with titles like “Cause of our Joy,” “Seat of Wisdom,” “Virgin Undefiled,” “Mother of Divine Grace.” Prayers proclaim that “she is our life, our sweetness and our hope.” “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you… Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
There are reasons for honoring her. She helps us to see Jesus.
She was immaculately conceived when her life began, and she was assumed bodily into heaven when her earthly life ended, the Church believes.
Gifts come to her through the merits of her Son, because she plays an important role in the world’s salvation. She cooperated with him in his mission. She helps us know Jesus and the power of his resurrection. “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
Some, however, say the scriptures don’t support these claims for Mary. Let’s see what we can learn from them.
A Disciple of Jesus
Like Peter and the other disciples, Mary was an important witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. She had unique memories of him. “She kept all these things in her heart and pondered over them,” St. Luke says, and her memories found a place in the gospels.
Where would the story of his birth come from, unless from her? She stood by the cross of her Son on Calvary, according to St. John gospel. Wouldn’t she offer her memories about that crucial event too?
Yet, Mary’s contribution differs from that of the other disciples, like Peter. She witnessed Jesus birth and early life, when he was subject to her and Joseph at Nazareth. But, interestingly enough– as the scriptures indicate– when Jesus begins his public ministry and calls disciples, when he begins to preach and to heal in Capernaum and in other towns of Galilee, Mary has hardly any part of it.
Yes, she’s present at Cana in Galilee at the marriage feast when he changed water into wine, according to John’s gospel. She visits him at Capernaum briefly according to the gospels. For the most part, however, she seems to remain in Nazareth where, where according to the scriptures, Jesus is rejected when he visits his hometown.
It seems, then, that Mary is present only occasionally during Jesus’ public ministry. Then, she had to hear what he said and did from others. Only when he goes to Jerusalem for the last time, does she accompany him. Then, according to John’s Passion narrative, she stood by his cross and watched him die.
Two periods of Jesus’ life she witnesses directly: Jesus’ birth and early life at Nazareth, and his death on the cross. Both belong to his hidden life when his power is mostly concealed.
Made flesh, the Word of God becomes part of ordinary humanity, and he “humbles himself, taking the form of a slave,” St. Paul says. In his early life, he was like any other child and would be unnoticed. At his death, he could be mistaken for any criminal condemned to a cross.
Mary looks at the mysteries of her Son as a woman of prayer, a believer, and helps us understand what the one we see in faith, who is so often hidden.
She becomes a companion in prayer. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” In these words we welcome her; we share in her grace and her wisdom.
This is especially true when we pray the rosary with her.
“To recite the rosary is nothing else than to contemplate the face of Christ with Mary.”
In his letter “Rosarium Virginis Mariae” (October 16, 2002) Pope John Paul II recommended this way of praying which has nourished Catholics for centuries as a “school of Mary.” The pope suggested other mysteries be added to those already used by Catholics, Mysteries of Light, which include mysteries of Jesus’ public life from his baptism to his passion.
The pope saw the rosary as a way to center on the life of Jesus Christ. Through it, “may be imitate what it contains and obtain what it promises.”
The rosary is a good way to meditate on the scriptures. We will pray it this evening as a scriptural prayer.
Follow up: For a biography of Mary and further information, see http://www.cptryon.org/compassion/mary/index.html