The Virgin Mary: A Catholic Perspective

This is a response to Chad’s blog post: The Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

Here is Lisa’s response to Chad: Mary and Me

Here’s Tony’s response to Chad: Mary, Mother of God

[I have some, maybe too many (haha!) great resources about Mary in the footnotes, so please check there for further reading.]

I’d like to commend Chad in his blog, and state that we are in agreement with most of our tradition’s teachings regarding Mary. He and I have had some great conversations, and I have really enjoyed dialoguing with you. Thanks, Chad! I’m going to discuss some things from the Catholic perspective (clarifying statement, praying to Mary, and the Hail Mary prayer), then I’ll have some comments regarding the statements that Catholicism disagrees with (development of the Immaculate Conception and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception).

Church Father, St. Basil:

Every deed and every word of our Savior Jesus Christ is a canon of piety and virtue. When thou hearest word or deed of His, do not hear it as by the way, or after a simple and carnal manner, but enter into the depths of His contemplation, become a communicant in truths mystically delivered to thee.

I think it’s important to be clear on this point, so if you get lost in the weeds of this post, remember this: Anything that the Catholic Church teaches about Mary is ultimately to reinforce our understanding of Jesus. Mariology is a sub-doctrine within Christology. An example of this would be the concept of Mary as Theotokos (Mother (tokos) of God (Theo)), which I’ll discuss later in this article.

A couple other things that would be important to address:

  1. Catholics don’t worship Mary.
    • Protestantism has jettisoned most things related to Catholicism… with the exception of most primary doctrines that were developed prior to the Protestant Reformation. An example of this is the ideology or concept of “veneration.” Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy have two very separate and distinct forms of honor: adoration and veneration. Adoration is worship which is given to God alone (this is what Protestants think we are doing when “praying” or have a devotion to Mary or the Saints). Veneration is, “respect or awe inspired by the dignity, wisdom, dedication, or talent of a person” (i.e. Mother Theresa (now saint), St. Stephen (first martyr), the apostles, etc.). We do not adorate Mary, that would be an egregious offense to God, but we do venerate Mary for her obedience to God.
  2. What Catholics mean when we say that we “pray” to Mary, and what do Protestants mean when they accuse Catholics of “praying” to Mary are very different things.
    • The word “pray” has various meanings. The dictionary defines it as, “entreat, implore — often used as a function word in introducing a question, request, or plea (i.e. “pray be careful“); to make a request in a humble manner; to address God or a god with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving.” For Protestants, the word “pray” has a very singular adorative (worshipful) meaning, but for Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the rest of the world, there are multiple meanings. When Catholics say that we “pray” to Mary, we mean that we ask for her to intercede and pray for us. Much like when you ask your friends or family to pray for you. Are you worshipping them? No, of course not! You’re asking for their assistance, and you’re uniting with the mystical body of Christ. It’s a humble request made to a saint who has passed through this life well, and in this case, also happens to be the Mother of God.
    • The concept of “praying” to the Saints will be addressed in the blog post on August 27th (The Saints).

“The Fathers of the Church taught that Mary received a number of distinctive blessings in order to make her a more fitting mother for Christ and the prototypical Christian (follower of Christ). These blessings included her role as the New Eve (corresponding to Christ’s role as the New Adam), her Immaculate Conception, her spiritual motherhood of all Christians, and her Assumption into heaven. These gifts were given to her by God’s grace. She did not earn them, but she possessed them nonetheless. [emphasis added]”[1]

Here are a few statements from the Church Fathers regarding mary:[2]

Justin Martyr – “[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’ [Luke 1:38]” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100 [A.D. 155]).

Irenaeus – “Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, ‘Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.’ Eve, however, was disobedient, and, when yet a virgin, she did not obey. Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband—for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children, and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply—having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith” (Against Heresies 3:22:24 [A.D. 189]).

Irenaeus (#2) – “The Lord then was manifestly coming to his own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation that is supported by himself. He was making a recapitulation of that disobedience that had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience that was upon a tree [i.e., the cross]. Furthermore, the original deception was to be done away with—the deception by which that virgin Eve (who was already espoused to a man) was unhappily misled. That this was to be overturned was happily announced through means of the truth by the angel to the Virgin Mary (who was also [espoused] to a man). . . . So if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten” (ibid., 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).

Tertullian – “And again, lest I depart from my argumentation on the name of Adam: Why is Christ called Adam by the apostle [Paul], if as man he was not of that earthly origin? But even reason defends this conclusion, that God recovered his image and likeness by a procedure similar to that in which he had been robbed of it by the devil. It was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise through a virgin the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex was by the same sex reestablished in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight” (The Flesh of Christ 17:4 [A.D. 210].

Augustine – “Our Lord . . . was not averse to males, for he took the form of a male, nor to females, for of a female he was born. Besides, there is a great mystery here: that just as death comes to us through a woman, life is born to us through a woman; that the devil, defeated, would be tormented by each nature, feminine and masculine, as he had taken delight in the defection of both” (Christian Combat 22:24 [A.D. 396]).

Augustine (#2) – “That one woman is both mother and virgin, not in spirit only but even in body. In spirit she is mother, not of our head, who is our Savior himself—of whom all, even she herself, are rightly called children of the bridegroom—but plainly she is the mother of us who are his members, because by love she has cooperated so that the faithful, who are the members of that head, might be born in the Church. In body, indeed, she is the Mother of that very head” (Holy Virginity 6:6 [A.D. 401]). …

Augustine (#3) – “Having excepted the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins—for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?—so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?” (Nature and Grace 36:42 [A.D. 415]).

An interesting place to start would be the Hail Mary prayer. Protestants have an issue with it, based on a misunderstanding, and it might be helpful to break down the prayer to give context. Here’s the full prayer (or request for intercession):

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, 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.

“Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.”

This statement comes out of Luke 1:28, and is the greeting that the Archangel, Gabriel, gave. In the ESV, you’ll see it translated as, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” In Latin, the phrase becomes two words: “plena gratia.” In the original Greek, it’s just one, the phonetically unwieldy but potent in the meaning verb, kecharitōmenē. [See the associated footnote, for an in-depth discussion on what is happening in the Greek, and why this translation is valid.3] As you can see, the first line of the “Hail Mary” prayer is just a quote from Scripture. I’ll get into the theology of the “Full of Grace” part later in this blog.

“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

The second line within the prayer also comes out of Scripture, and can be found in Luke 1:41-42, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!'” Obviously, Jesus’ name isn’t present in the Scripture passage, but I don’t think that anyone has an issue with inserting His name for clarification. If you do have an issue with it… I don’t know what to tell you.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.”

Now, this one isn’t in Scripture, but the theology can be found there. You may say, “how can you develop the theology based on something that isn’t in Scripture?” We have many examples of theology that isn’t directly stated in Scripture, but the concept is still there (i.e. Trinity). Let’s break this portion down by each section:

  • “Holy Mary”:
    • All saints are holy, and we are called to live holy lives in emulation of God. If you have an issue with issue with this concept, you may need to figure out what you believe about justification and salvation.
  • “Mother of God”:
    • Mary gave birth to the second person of the Trinity, and therefore is validly known as the Mother of God. If you have an issue with the theology of Mary being the Mother of God, remember that this is more about Jesus that it is about Mary. This theology is not intended to elevate Mary, but is meant to reinforce the theology regarding the incarnation, hypostatic union (the idea that Jesus is fully God and fully man), and by extension, the atonement. The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. (a.k.a. 3rd Ecumenical Council), stated, “If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the holy virgin is the “Theotokos” (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the word of God become flesh by birth) let him be anathema.” The reason the Council of Ephesus codified this was because the Bishop of Constantinople named Nestorius, who insisted that Mary was only the “Mother of ‘the Christ'”, and not “Mother of God”. You may think that it is an unimportant nuance, but you would be wrong. The implications of Mary being “Mother of God” vs. “Mother of ‘the Christ'” are grave, and have serious implications regarding the divinity/humanity of Jesus.
  • “pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death.”:
    • I’ll discuss the concept of “praying” or asking the saints to “intercede” for us in a future post, but here’s a brief explanation. The theology surrounding this concept is intermingled with our understanding of eschatology, and what happens to us after death. Catholic theology, in accordance with Paul’s teaching, says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) (Note: We’ll talk about Purgatory in a different blog). This is where Protestants and Catholics part ways. When I was a Protestants, I believed that when we get to heaven, we wouldn’t be concerned with what is happening on earth. Does that make sense? God is deeply concerned with what is happening, and it grieves Him… would we also not be concerned? Therefore, while on earth, we can ask the saints to intercede for us, and to bring our prayers and petitions to God. Meaning, we have the option of asking Christians, who passed through this life well, that are literally standing in the presence, face to face, with the Living God, to pray for us. Now, you may say, “Why wouldn’t I just bring my prayers to God directly?” YES! You should absolutely do that! God is not honored if we were to enter His throne room and address His servants before Him, and the servants recognize that it is not their place to be addressed before God is addressed. Always go to God first! St. Therese of Lisieux said, “My mission – to make God loved – will begin after my death[.] I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.” I’ll leave you with this, do you ask your friends for prayer, and if so, why?

 

Here are my responses to some of the comments made by Chad in his blog:

Comment #1: “In addition, the affirmation of Mary’s sinlessness is a later development of the Catholic Church after the schism of 1054.”

The immaculate conception (Mary’s sinlessness) was first pronounced by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854, which is obviously after the schism of 1054. While the Catholic Church, through logic and theology, arrived at the conclusion of the Immaculate Conception, it was Mary who reinforced the dogma through a series of apparitions in 1858. Therefore, this theology came about through natural reasoning and theology, but it was confirmed through the supernatural appearance of Mary. Additionally, while the teaching wasn’t dogmatized until the 1800’s, it was accepted and believed by the Church prior to that, and even prior to 1054. Here are some quotes:

Origen – “This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.” (Homily 1 [A.D. 244]).

Hippolytus – “He [Jesus] was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle [Mary] was exempt from defilement and corruption.” (Orat. In Illud, Dominus pascit me, in Gallandi, Bibl. Patrum, II, 496 ante [A.D. 235]).

Ephraim the Syrian – “You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is neither blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?” (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 [A. D. 361]).

Ambrose of Milan – “Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin.” (Commentary on Psalm 118:22-30 [A.D. 387]).

Gregory Nazianzen – “He was conceived by the virgin, who had been first purified by the Spirit in soul and body; for, as it was fitting that childbearing should receive its share of honor, so it was necessary that virginity should receive even greater honor.” (Sermon 38 [d. A.D. 390]).

Augustine – “We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.” (Nature and Grace 36:42 [A.D. 415]).

Theodotus of Ancrya – “A virgin, innocent, spotless, free of all defect, untouched, unsullied, holy in soul and body, like a lily sprouting among thorns.” (Homily 6:11[ante A.D. 446]).

Proclus of Constantinople – “As He formed her without any stain of her own, so He proceeded from her contracting no stain.” (Homily 1[ante A.D. 446]).

Jacob of Sarug – “[T]he very fact that God has elected her proves that none was ever holier than Mary, if any stain had disfigured her soul, if any other virgin had been purer and holier, God would have selected her and rejected Mary.” [ante A.D. 521].

Romanos the Melodist – “Then the tribes of Israel heard that Anna had conceived the immaculate one. So everyone took part in the rejoicing. Joachim gave a banquet, and great was the merriment in the garden. He invited the priests and Levites to prayer; then he called Mary into the center of the crowd, that she might be magnified.” (On the Birth of Mary 1 [d. ca A.D. 560]).

Earlier writers hint at the doctrine, by comparing Mary to Eve, who was created without the stain of sin:

[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course that was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied, “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 100 [A.D. 155]).

Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, “Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.” Eve . . . who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband — for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children . . . having become disobedient [sin], was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient [no sin], was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith (Iranaeus, Against Heresies 3:22:24 [A.D. 189]).

Comment #2: “Some Church Fathers do suggest Mary was capable of sin but chose not to. Others, like St. Chrysostom, say that she did in fact sin. St. Tihkon’s Monastery concludes that these ‘viewpoints cannot be termed dogma… because a reply to this question has neither been revealed in the historical information available to us, nor has it been formally investigated and articulated by the Church.'”

My response to this is that individuals are not infallible (we can talk about Ex Cathedra in another post), the Church is infallible. The Church is made up of thousands of priests, 5,100 bishops (current number), 203 Cardinals (current number), thousands of theologians, and others. When doctrine is determined, it has a consensus of agreement and is not made up of a single person or group of people. It is made by a college of people who are charged with the care and protection of the Church. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas believed that a fetus didn’t receive their soul and was not considered a person until 2-weeks after conception. The reason for this was due to the medical and biological knowledge of his time, which believed this to be true. Today, we have a much more adept knowledge of these areas and know that life begins at conception. Does this teaching negate his other teachings? Of course not! Thomas Aquinas did the best that he could with the data that was available to him. In this example, we have gained a more full understanding of conception, and no longer agree with his teaching on this subject. Therefore, while Patriarch Tihkon (Saint in Eastern Orthodox Church) and St. Chrysostom had great theologies on a wealth of subjects, they are not infallible.

Also, to be clear on this, there is historical supernatural proof of the immaculate conception, which was investigated and articulated by the Church. As I mentioned above, four years after the doctrine was conceived, Mary, in a confirmed apparition, told St. Bernadette that she was, “the Immaculate Conception.” The Eastern Church does not accept this apparition as valid, but they do hold other Marion apparitions as valid. Additionally, 28 years prior to this event, Mary appeared to St. Catherine of Laboure, and taught her this prayer, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.” Therefore, we have two historical events that have been investigated and articulated by the Church, which affirms, through natural reasoning and supernatural confirmation, that Mary was conceived without sin. Remember, this doctrine isn’t about Mary… it’s about Jesus. If Jesus were to be protected by Mary’s sinlessness, then He’s not God. Only God has dominion over sin, and if He is bound (or reliant) on his creation to protect Him from sin, then He is an ineffective, incapable, and insufficient redeemer.

Lastly, I’m sure the “us” in Chad’s statement isn’t about all Christians, but is specifically about Eastern Orthodox. The Eastern Church does not affirm these apparitions, and therefore, a more accurate understanding of Chad’s statement would be, “a reply to this question has neither been revealed in the historical information available to the [Eastern Orthodox Church], nor has it been formally investigated and articulated by [our] Church.” There is evidence, but the Eastern Church does not accept it.

Comment #3: “Ever-Virgin-“

The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin (ever-virgin), so I am in agreement with this section. The only thing that I will add to this is regarding ancient Jewish family laws and etiquette. Meaning, the family structure was extremely important, and the younger family members were tasked with caring for the elder family members. Therefore, if Jesus had other siblings, his statement on the cross to John and Mary would be an extremely inappropriate, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, 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) Jesus placed his mother in the care of his friend, John, and asked him to care for his mother. If Jesus had siblings, this would not have taken place.

Comment #4: “There are a few differences between the Orthodox and Catholic traditions regarding the sinfulness of Mary. The Orthodox Church rejects the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception […]”

I’ll be addressing this comment through the theology regarding the Immaculate Conception. If you’re a Protestant, you probably think that the Immaculate Conception is about Jesus, but you would be wrong. This theology is not that Jesus was immaculately conceived, which He was, but it is about Mary’s immaculate conception. This theology is derived from Gabriel’s statement, “Full of Grace”. A common Protestant objection to the theology regarding Mary’s immaculate conception is, “A single verse does not have the depth to define a theology such as that. It requires more evidence/precedence in Scripture.” That is a hermeneutical fallacy and hypocritical, so don’t fall into that trap. There are many Christian theologies that are developed from a single verse. Such as, “I Am Who I Am,” the fact that Christ is only represented as the “Word” four times in Scripture, or the theology of the Imago Dei. These theologies are developed from minimal passages in Scripture, but what would Christianity be without them? You are more than welcome to make a mental reservation regarding Mary. The Church’s teaching of her is not salvific, but to dismiss her is to dismiss a deeper understanding of our Lord. Now, what does the Church teach about her immaculate conception, and why is it important.

Federico Suarez, in his book, “Mary of Nazareth”, says,

“This is what we can appreciate very clearly in the most perfect of all creatures. The reason for the Virgin Mary’s whole being, for her whole existence, was her maternity. The qualities with which God had gifted her are explained and justified in relation to Christ, because she was to be His mother. This is also the reason why God lifted for one moment the yok which had weighed down mankind since Adam’s sin, in order that not even original sin should touch her with its humiliating mark.”

Some use the 3rd and 4th ecumenical councils as an argument against the early church’s understanding of Mary’s sinlessness. These councils involved Christology and Mariology, but the intended purpose of those councils was not to discuss her state, or lack of, sin. The 3rd council was about the Creed and Theotokos/condemnation of Nestorius’ “Christotokos.” The 4th council was about the hypostatic union (that Jesus was fully God and fully man) and the nature of Christ. Neither of these councils were intended to discuss the immaculate conception… that wasn’t the question being asked during the council. Furthermore, while the topic could have come up, as I’m sure they discussed other ideas that weren’t related to the agenda of the council, there wasn’t a need to address it. At the time, no one disagreed with that teaching, and there weren’t any heresies surrounding her state of sin. Now, heresies did start to spring up in the 12th century and extended into the 16th century, which was addressed by the Church in the 19th century. To quote a previous statement that I made that can be applied to this discussion, “[j]ust because the East didn’t think that it was important/affected [by the heresies surround the Eucharist], doesn’t mean that the West didn’t need to address it. The abuse of someone else doesn’t necessarily affect me, but that doesn’t mean that I remain uninvolved and claim, “that’s your problem.”

If Jesus is the second Adam, without sin, it would logically follow that Mary is the second Eve, without sin. Jesus and Mary are the re-presentation of the Creation story, which requires the same terms, similar to other typology examples or prefigurements. Therefore, Jesus and Mary must be in the same sinless state and must have the same capacity for free will that Adam and Eve were given. Meaning, they must be pure and sinless beings with the capacity to sin as Adam and Eve. Because of Jesus’ divinity, He could not sin, but because of his humanity, he had the capacity to sin. Mary is not divine, but like Eve, she was immaculately created (conceived), not because of who she is but because of who her son is. Therefore, the representation requires the same form (created sinless) [Jesus wasn’t created, only Mary was created] and matter (the capacity to choose sin).

[Side Note: I’m not stating that Mary is divine. I’m only stating that, like Jesus, she was conceived without sin. She is a created creature, just like you and me, but unlike you and me, she was created perfect and we will one day become perfect.]

Yes, God could use imperfection to bring about perfection, but why would He choose a mediocre method of bringing about the incarnation, when His plan was to redeem creation through an infinitely efficacious method. This goes into the idea of prevenient grace and “fittingness.” Is it possible for the sinless Messiah to come from a sinful being? Yes, it’s possible, but is it fitting? It would be more fitting for the vessel containing the Messiah to be pure, too. Also, taking into account that at the moment of his conception, if she was sinful, she would be made sinless by proxy. The prevenient grace would immediately extend to her because of the infinitely efficacious act of the incarnation and the subsequent atonement. Mary was intended to be the Theotokos, and through that, prevenient grace superseded the stain of original sin. Through her concomitant grace, she remained sinless.

For another example of Mary representing something in the Old Testament, let’s look to the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a created vessel that contained within it the glory of God, the Law, Manna, and Aaron’s staff, which represents the priesthood. What did Mary contain within her? The glory of God and Jesus, who is the Word (or Law), who is the Bread of Life (or Manna), and who is the High Priest (Aaron’s staff). We don’t have the Ark of the Covenant because Mary is the Ark of the Covenant.

You may say that an immaculate conception is impossible and illogical, but I would remind you, assuming you’re a Christian, that we believe that the God of the universe became incarnate, lived a perfect life, died on a cross, and rose again. If God is incapable of withholding the stain of sin from a created being, then surely He is incapable of redeeming creation from sin.

Fr. Longnecker, in his article, “Beer, Fried Chicken and the Immaculate Conception” [awesome title, right!?] that, “I no longer simply understood the dogma and the logic of it, but I saw the beauty of it and the wonder of the simple girl of Nazareth becoming the second Eve. As I realized I believed in the Immaculate Conception I also suddenly became more aware, in a deeper way — a way very difficult to articulate — of the reality and historical concreteness of the incarnation itself.”

Ubi Caritas Est Vera, Deus Ibi Est                                                                                                        (Where true charity is, God is there.)

FOOTNOTES AND REFERENCES

* Books to read about Mary:

  1. Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God – The book was written by a Protestant convert to Catholicism, and is intended to explain May and address objections about her.
  2. Behold you Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines – This book was written by a Catholic apologist, who converted from Protestantism. It is intended to address objections made by Protestants.

* The Marialis Cultus is a Papal Encyclical that was promulgated by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1974, nine years after the Second Vatican Council, and was intended to explain the “Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” This encyclical had three parts:

  1. Discusses the history of Catholicism’s Marian devotions (devotion not worship), as well as their rationale.
  2. Focuses on what should/will take place in the Church’s Marian devotions in the future
  3. Touches on the Angelus and the Rosary prayers.

* The Ineffabilis Deus is a Papal Encyclical that was promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854, which discusses the Immaculate Conception.

* Catechism of the Catholic Church on Mary.

* Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations): Start in Chapter 8/Paragraph 52-69. This constitution was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964, during the Second Vatican Council. The purpose of this document is to present the essence, purpose, and mission of the Church, and to explain the duty of the faithful (Christians). Here are the chapters of the document:

  1. Chapter 1: The Mystery of the Church (1-8)
  2. Chapter 2: On The People of God (9-17)
  3. Chapter 3: The Hierarchical Structure of the Church and In Particular on the Episcopate (18-29)
  4. Chapter 4: The Laity (30-38)
  5. Chapter 5: The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church (39-42)
  6. Chapter 6: The Religious (43-47)
  7. Chapter 7: The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and Its Union with the Church in Heaven (48-51)
  8. Chapter 8: The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church (52-69)

* Here’s another good article on the development of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9070

https://www.catholic.com/tract/mary-full-of-grace

Church Father’s understanding of the Virgin Mary (70 A.D. to 584 A.D.) (https://www.catholic.com/tract/mary-full-of-grace):

  • The Ascension of Isaiah
    • “[T]he report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain’” (Ascension of Isaiah 11 [A.D. 70]).
  • The Odes of Solomon
    • “So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life. She bore as a strong man, with will . . . ” (Odes of Solomon 19 [A.D. 80]).
  • Pseudo-Melito
    • “If therefore it might come to pass by the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: ‘Be it done according to your will’” (The Passing of the Virgin 16:2–17 [A.D. 300]).
  • Ephraim the Syrian
    • “You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?” (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 [A.D. 361]).
  • Ambrose of Milan
    • “Mary’s life should be for you a pictorial image of virginity. Her life is like a mirror reflecting the face of chastity and the form of virtue. Therein you may find a model for your own life . . . showing what to improve, what to imitate, what to hold fast to” (The Virgins 2:2:6 [A.D. 377]).
    • “The first thing which kindles ardor in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater [to teach by example] than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbors? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy?” (ibid., 2:2:7).
    • “Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a virgin not only undefiled, but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin” (Commentary on Psalm 118:22–30 [A.D. 387]).
  • Timothy of Jerusalem
    • “Therefore the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that he who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption” (Homily on Simeon and Anna [A.D. 400]).
  • John the Theologian
    • “[T]he Lord said to his Mother, ‘Let your heart rejoice and be glad, for every favor and every gift has been given to you from my Father in heaven and from me and from the Holy Spirit. Every soul that calls upon your name shall not be ashamed, but shall find mercy and comfort and support and confidence, both in the world that now is and in that which is to come, in the presence of my Father in the heavens’” (The Falling Asleep of Mary [A.D. 400]).
    • “And from that time forth all knew that the spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise” (ibid.).
  • Gregory of Tours
    • “The course of this life having been completed by blessed Mary, when now she would be called from the world, all the apostles came together from their various regions to her house. And when they had heard that she was about to be taken from the world, they kept watch together with her. And behold, the Lord Jesus came with his angels, and, taking her soul, he gave it over to the angel Michael and withdrew. At daybreak, however, the apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb, and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; the holy body having been received, he commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise, where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary’s body] rejoices with the Lord’s chosen ones and is in the enjoyment of the good of an eternity that will never end” (Eight Books of Miracles 1:4 [A.D. 584]).
    • “But Mary, the glorious Mother of Christ, who is believed to be a virgin both before and after she bore him, has, as we said above, been translated into paradise, amid the singing of the angelic choirs, whether the Lord preceded her” (ibid., 1:8).

While I studied Greek in Seminary, this person knows it much better than I do:

Kecharitōmenē is the “perfect” tense of charitoō. According to Herbert Weir Smyth’s A Greek Grammar for Colleges—still the bible for Greek grammar today—defines the perfect tense this way: “The perfect denotes a completed action the effects of which still continue in the present.” So Mary received grace in some complete way and remains completed in that grace. We’re coming awfully close to the Catholic dogma.

Or are we reading too much into this? Here’s the conclusion two scholars draw: “It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitōmenē as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace” (Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament, as cited by Catholic apologist Phil Vaz here).

Indeed, to say that Mary was “completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace” is not only a restatement of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, it also points forward to the traditional teaching that Mary is a “Mediatrix of all graces” (yet to be dogmatically defined). If anything, “full of grace,” seems to understate what the Greek text is saying. But “filled completely, perfectly, and enduringly” is a mouthful, so it’s easy to see why the Vulgate went with the more poetic approximation “full of grace.”

By turns the dictionary, concordance, and grammar argue for the Catholic reading of Luke 1:28.

Three facts from the narrative seal the case. First, as St. Thomas Aquinas notes in his commentary on the Hail Mary, the angel’s reverent salutation of Mary is a complete reversal of roles from the Old Testament, in which men revered angels. Such reverence was due to angels because angels have a spiritual and incorruptible nature, are more familiar with God, and “partake most fully of the divine light.” In revering Mary, then, then Angel Gabriel is showing that she surpasses the angels in these three aspects. Only someone “full of grace” could merit such extraordinary reverence.

Second, in the Greek text, as Aquinas points out, Mary’s name is missing from Luke 1:28. The text literally reads as “Hail, full of grace.” Mary has become so “full of grace” that it has consumed her completely—it has become more who she is even than even her very name.

This omission makes the most sense if we translate the verb as grace and not as favor. A favor does not involve the interior man (or woman). It chiefly is concerned with their exterior circumstances. I can do a favor for you without changing who you are (for example, buy you a car, or get you a job). God’s grace changes who we are. Grace implies a spiritual state or interior condition (hence the phrase “state of grace”). One can imagine, then, that someone could be in such an intensive state of grace that it defines their whole personality.

Third, Mary’s reaction to the angel’s words is a giant clue as to their significance. Here is the text again (Douay-Rheims translation):

[28] And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. [29] Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. [30] And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.

[31] Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. [32] He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. [33] And of his kingdom there shall be no end. [34] And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? [35] And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

This is a lot to take in. Mary is “blessed among women.” Her son will be the “Son of the Most High” and a king after David. And she will do this while remaining a virgin. Instead, she will conceive by the “power of the most High.” Terror-inducing words for any mortal ears, not to mention an unmarried teenage virgin. Readers may recall that Mary was “troubled” by the words of the angel.

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6 thoughts on “The Virgin Mary: A Catholic Perspective

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