BIBLICAL BASIS FOR CATECHISM
The Catholic Veneration of Mary
Two major Catholic beliefs rankle Protestants more than any other beliefs: the Pope in Rome and Catholics' veneration of Mary. Protestants have a visceral reaction when they hear Catholics say, "Holy Mary, Mother of God," or when they hear Mary called "mediatrix" (or a female mediator between Christ/God and people). We will deal with each of these in the sections below, but first of all, we need to correct right off the bat what Protestants claim about the Mary:
Sometimes Protestants will really criticize Catholics for showing such respect to Mary. Well, the truth is that the most important Protestant ever, Martin Luther, also had tons of respect for Mary. He believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary and claimed that she was the "Queen of Heaven." He applied to her the traditional title of theotokos, "Mother of God." It wasn't later until the 1800's that many Protestants took a negative view towards emphasizing Mary when the Roman Catholic Church declared the Immaculate Conception to be dogma.
BIBLICAL BASIS FOR ROMAN CATHOLIC RESPECT FOR MARY
One of the most misunderstood Catholic practices is that of praying the Rosary
Hail, Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death.
The Hail, Mary in the Rosary
Praying this prayer in the Rosary really raises Protestants' eyebrows. It sounds so blasphemous to Protestant ears. There would be grounds for such alarm IF it were not for the fact that most of the Hail Mary is actually nothing less than Scripture itself. In saying the Hail Mary, you are for all practical purposes praying Scripture, something Protestants surely would have no trouble doing, since they themselves emphasize praying Scripture. As we now study major passages on Mary from 2 of the most important writers in the New Testament (NT), we will see how their writings/Scriptures actually form the basis of the Hail Mary.
BIBLICAL BASIS FOR ROMAN CATHOLIC RESPECT FOR MARY IN THE WRITINGS OF ST. LUKE AND ST. JOHN
Two New Testament writers especially highlight the significance and role of Mary for the Christian: Luke and John. "Well," a Protestant might say, "that's not enough. If Mary is all-so important then all the NT writers should speak about her." That's not only just patently false, it is also a dangerous claim. If God's Word says something even only once, it is authoritative because it is God's Word. John and Luke's writings are Scripture; they don't need more support from other NT writers in order for their claims to be valid. What is marvelous is that these two are actually some of the major writers of the NT being responsible for 7 of the books in the NT (5 of them being major) and who highlight Mary's significance for Christians.
References in Luke's Gospel
Luke gives us two of the most important passages on Mary's significance in his birth narratives. According to Luke 1, six months after the archangel Gabriel had appeared to Elizabeth and Zechariah informing them that they would be the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Christ, he appeared to Mary in the tiny village of Nazareth. Gabriel states:
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Look at her stunning response to what the archangel communicates to her: “May your word to me be fulfilled.” She is to risk ridicule for having a baby out of wedlock. According to John 8:1-11, Mary even risked being put to death for being a loose woman. Yet none of that crosses her mind. Instead she voices the perfect response to God, the response which should serve as the model for all Christians in every situation: “May your word to me be fulfilled,” or even better "May it be according to your word." She submits completely to the will of God.
The second part comes out of the episode in which Mary, after receiving this news from Gabriel, goes south to Judea to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who is 6 months pregnant, sees Mary approaching her. Look at what Elizabeth declares:
Elizabeth goes even further though. Mary is not simply the mother of Jesus; she is the "mother of my Lord." The word "Lord" here is not simply a respectful title. Throughout the NT it signifies the deity of Jesus. For example, Thomas upon seeing the resurrected Jesus cries out, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). It serves as the basis for the phrase in the Rosary, "Holy Mary, Mother of God." This does not mean that she is the mother of God as if she preceded God the Father. Rather, she is the mother of Jesus who is none other than God the Son. Calling her the "Mother of God" is not for the purpose of necessarily exalting her but of reminding us of how great her Son actually was, God the Son. The phrase asserts the deity of Jesus, not of Mary.
Following this greeting, though, Mary utters one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry in all literature, The Magnificat
And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
FROM NOW ON ALL GENERATIONS WILL CALL ME BLESSED,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation. . . .
Notice that Mary declares that all generations will call her blessed, not just simply the generation in which she lived, and not just the Catholics. Rather all generations are to call her “Blessed.” For this reason, Catholics call her "Blessed Mary, ever-virgin!" (We will look at the phrase "ever-virgin" later). In light of the high praise Luke gives Mary, it would seem irresponsible for us not to give her this same high praise. John, though, goes even further.
In support of this, it is fascinating to note that right after John presents to us the ark of the covenant for the first time in Revelation (11:19), he presents to us Mary in the very next verse: "A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 and she was with child; and she *cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth" (Rev. 12:1-2). Is he implying then that Mary is the new ark of the covenant since she like the original ark of the covenant bore the divine within her?
We actually see Mary specifically identified as the ark of the covenant in the writings of probably one of the greatest of the early Church Fathers: Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–373) in his Homily of the Papyrus of Turin: "O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Ark of the Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides."
References in John's Writings
We have already mentioned John's reference to Mary in Rev. 12 (we will return to this passage shortly). What is interesting about Mary's presence in John's writings is that not once does he call her by her name, "Mary." Rather, he idealizes her, makes her larger than life simply by having Jesus call her "Woman." John himself will only refer to Mary as the Mother of Jesus or "His mother" with "His" referring to Jesus and never by her proper name (John 2:1; 19:25, 26). John practically idealizes Mary (not idolizes her).
Again, notice that not once does Jesus nor John call Mary by her name. Rather, he idealizes her by having calling her the "mother of Jesus" and by having Jesus call her "Woman." Undoubtedly this is a title of respect, much like our English "ma'am"; however, this use of the title and other references to Mary in John's writings indicate that "Woman" is more than a title of respect. It points to John's idealization of Mary.
Notice Jesus' response to Mary's request for Jesus to take care of the wine situation. On the surface it appears to be a little over the top: "Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour [i.e. the hour He is to be glorified] has not come." Say what? She is, on the surface, just asking for some more wine, and Jesus talks about His hour. Well, maybe there was a little more in Mary's request that just asking for more wine. Most likely she saw it as an opportunity for Jesus to reveal Himself to the world as God the Son. That hour though occurs on the cross (see John 8:28). Jesus isn't denying her request for more wine, a request He honors, but rather is informing her that the timing of His ultimate glorification is not yet at hand. Her timing may be off, BUT her knowledge of who Jesus truly is is right on the mark; otherwise, she would have never asked Him to glorify Himself.
The most significant thing about this passage is Mary's response to Jesus after she asks Him to take care of the wine situation. She expresses full confidence in Jesus even though He "seems" to be denying her request. This is John's way of expressing the same sentiment Mary had demonstrated earlier when the archangel Gabriel had given her news of the miraculous birth of Jesus through her. Mary's response and words to the servants help explain the reason Roman Catholics hold her in such high regard: she is always submissive to the will of God and always encourages others to do the same likewise.
Please explain the reason Protestants (including me when I was a Protestant) never had a problem pointing to David as being a model for most of his life for Christians but never pointed to Mary who never messed up like David did. As a Protestant I used to study Abraham till I was blue in the face but never once study Mary. In light of all John and Luke write about her, this is stunning.
We are not quite through with this passage. We will bring in one more element from this passage after examining the passage of Jesus speaking to His mother at the cross.
This particular passage has several implications regarding Mariology. First, it points to Mary never having had children other than Jesus. As Scott Hahn points out, if Mary had other children by Joseph as Protestants claimed, then Jesus would have been committing a serious outrage entrusting the care of His mother to John instead of to other sons. That just simply would not be done in first-century Israel. Passages like this harmonize with the Roman Catholic claim of Mary's perpetual virginity.
Raymond E. Brown, a Roman Catholic and the greatest commentator on the Gospel of John, points out that as early as the first part of the second century Hippolytus claimed that Mary had been a perpetual virgin, even after marrying Joseph. Brown correctly surmises that this claim would not have gone unchallenged if it were not true because of the great significance James the step-brother of Jesus had in the early church.
For our purposes we again see Jesus on the cross calling Mary "Woman." Then He entrusts her to John and then John to His mother. On the surface, all this seems innocuous: Jesus is just looking after His mother. This action though is not innocuous. Although John uses true historical events, he finds the deepest of meanings in these events. For example, when the soldiers cast lots for Jesus' inner tunic, John couches this in terms which point to Jesus being the High Priest. The cross in John's hands is transformed into Jesus' throne. Here, the Beloved Disciple, who was the literal historical person John, represents the ideal believer—again John is never called by his name but only by the title "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Mary, representing the Church, is entrusted with the care of the believer.
Brown claims that this indicates that whereas Mary was not to have a significant role in Jesus' earthly ministry as indicated in the miracle at Cana where Jesus does not allow her to influence the timing of His glorification, she was to have a huge role once He had ascended to heaven. In fact, from the Church Fathers we come to see that Mary played a huge role in Christianity after Jesus' ascension. In fact, Mary in early Christian thought was thought of as the New Eve (Irenaeus). (For more references to Mary in the Church Fathers, see the link at the bottom of this webpage.)
"A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. . . . 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. 6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she *had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days" (Rev. 12:1, 5-6).
The fact that John describes the woman as being the mother of the male child who will rule the nations indicates that John is referring to Mary. She may represent other entities, such as Israel or the Church; nevertheless, John is not erasing Mary but rather seeing a deeper significance to her in Christianity.
Look at John's description of Mary. She is clothed with the sun. Her footstool is the moon. Moreover, she is crowned with 12 stars. She has been transformed into a celestial being. This passage serves as the basis for and supports the Roman Catholic claim that Mary is the Queen of Heaven, or even more precisely the Queen Mother of Heaven.
This description is all the more significant since John and Mary had such a special relationship (see John 19:26-27 in which Jesus entrusts Mary to John and John to Mary).
Scott Hahn makes a compelling base from Scripture for this designation by pointing back to the role of Bathsheba, the mother of King Solomn, during his reign. Whenever she entered the throne room, Solomon not only welcomed her, he also had her sit on a throne he had placed next to his. From this point on, the queen mothers of Israel played a significant role in the life of the kingdom. They weren't the absolute monarch like the king; however, their honor was second only to the king's (see 1 Kings 2:19).
The venerated description of Mary continues. This Mary is not simply the mother of the divine Jesus (theotokos, that is "bearer of God"). She is also the mother of all Christians. When the dragon unsuccessfully attacks Jesus and then Mary, he turns to a new group to wage war against: "So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17). John describes her children as "those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus," that is Christians. When Roman Catholics call Mary "mother," they are not acting strangely. Rather they are taking the Bible seriously when it describes her as our mother. (One thing I have come to realize is that whereas other groups believe the Bible is God’s Word, Catholics not only believe it is God’s Word, they actually believe what it says.)
CAN MARY REALLY PRAY FOR US?
I don't want to go back over the issue about whether or not Catholics pray to Mary. They don't, at least not in the Protestant sense. Our prayers are directed to God through His Son Jesus. Mary though in Catholicism does play a major role in prayer
Why? Because Mary can get Jesus to do things we on our own can't? That is absolute rubbish. No Christian should ever believe this. This is merely continuing the Medieval misunderstanding of Jesus as being harsh and cruel with His mother being kind. Christ wants us to approach Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews writes, "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to throne of grace that we may receive mercy" (Heb. 3:16).
So why ask Mary to pray for us? If you can answer the following question, you will be able to answer the question about Mary's prayers: "Why do we ask other people to pray for us? In fact, why does Jesus claim that if two or three of us on earth agree about anything, it shall be done by His Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:19)? Jesus encourages corporate prayer, not simply individual private prayer. But why?
To develop our relationships with others. Christ is not simply interested in building you up individually; He is also interested in building up His church...a church full of people and full of relationships. Why? Because God who is so personal and relational that He exists as three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) knows that relationships are what make us truly real. In fact, God is not simply creating relationships; He is creating a family with Him as our Father and Jesus as our elder Brother. To encourage these relationships, Jesus makes specific promises to those who pray with other believers. Well, if God blesses us when we have others pray for us, how much more then will He bless us if our spiritual mother prays for us.
Just a side note here. At least twice the NT writers claim that the prayers of a righteous person can accomplish much (James 5:16 and John 9:31). If God will hear the prayers of Elijah who was righteous but nevertheless flawed, how much more then will He respond positively to the prayers of Mary.
"But can Mary pray for us since she is dead?" someone may ask. The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Specific verses in the Bible indicate that the dead actually know what is going on here on earth and are praying for us.
Next, after Jesus breaks open the fifth seal, we see beneath the altar of God in heaven all the saints who suffered martyrdom during the Great Tribulation. What are they doing? They are praying, actually asking God to speed up the process of avenging the wrong that had been done them. The fact that they are praying this indicates first that they are consciously alive, second that they are praying, and third they apparently know what is happening below on earth because they know they have not been avenged (Rev. 6:9-11). So if these martyred saints are conscious, are praying, and are aware of the situation on earth, why wouldn't the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of believers pray for us?
Finally, Scripture claims that Jesus who is in heaven prays for us (Rom. 8:32). If these saints including Mary are with Jesus and if they are conscious as Paul implies (Phil. 1:23), then why wouldn't they be praying along with Jesus? That just doesn't compute logically.
THE CHURCH FATHERS
We should not be surprised to discover that the Church Fathers who were either trained by the apostles or by those trained by the apostles also have a high view of Mary. Just a sample article on this can be found at
Mary: Mother of God.
THE REFORMERS' VIEW OF MARY
What is even more stunning is the fact that the founders of Protestantism had an extremely high view of Mary. Below is a sampling of their high view of Mary:
Martin Luther (early 1500's): (Remigius Bäumer, Marienlexikon Gesamtausgabe, Leo Scheffczyk, ed., Regensburg: Institutum Marianum, 1994), 190). Martin Luther not only believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary, he also believed that she lived in a state of sinlessness. He did reject the immaculate conception of Mary which is strange in light of the fact he accepted the 2 previous beliefs.
Zwingli: what is even wilder is that Baptists who reject Roman Catholic Marian theology trace their roots to Ulrich Zwingli who in turn termed Mary, "Mother of God."
TWO STRANGE ROMAN CATHOLIC TEACHINGS ON MARY
Wait a minute. That is what we call in logic a non sequitur; the evidence doesn't support the conclusion. There are a lot of things which are true which are not found in scripture. For example, although scripture doesn't say the world is round doesn't mean the world isn't round. Simply because scripture doesn't use the word "Trinity" doesn't mean the Trinity doesn't exist. That's absurd.
The Church merely claims that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Church has come to the belief (now dogma) that Mary's birth was miraculous and that she was born without sin. According to Jesus' instructions to Peter and the apostles, the church has the ability and authority to make sure claims. (Matt. 16: 19; 18:18)
Finally, in order for Jesus to born without sin in the world, it is only reasonable that His Mother would be born without sin in order to be the mother of the perfect Son. Whereas Jesus' birth was incarnational (no male was involved in His conception), her birth came through natural means. However, God worked in her conception so that she would not be stained with the sin nature.
HOWEVER, there are 2 interesting things to consider: