Updated: Feb 26, 2021
Note: This article was originally written as a letter of explanation to my Presbyterian grandmother. As such, it is a little more disjointed and a little less formal than the other articles on the site. That being said, I think it can be a helpful resource and have shared it as such.
Far from being alien to the scriptures, the doctrines about Mary believed by the Catholic Church are baked into the pages of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. As such, the creation story will be our starting point.
In the beginning, God overshadowed the waters of creation and called out, “Let there be light!”
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Jesus marks the beginning of a new creation, and the Gospels are telling this story.
The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
The Gospel of John starts off with this famous prologue.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
Just like in the first creation story, the new creation (Jesus’ life) begins with God hovering over, or overshadowing, and then light enters the world. In the first, physical light enters the world from God having overshadowed creation. In the second, the Light of Salvation enters the world from God having overshadowed creation.
God chose to start the new creation with Mary from all eternity. Some Catholic theologians have compared her to a beach head that the kingdom of God lands on to take back or redeem the universe from the power of the Serpent.
But Mary is far more than just a place where God enters the world. She is a person, and not just any person, but a mother. A mother gives of her own body in bringing life to her children. This is why the Nicene Creed, which Christians of all kinds have professed for thousands of years, says,
"For us men and for our salvation he [Jesus] came down from heaven, and, by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
“Incarnate of” means that the material from which Christ's body was made was taken from the Virgin Mary. This should remind us of another man and woman, at the beginning of creation in Genesis. While Eve was pulled from the body of Adam in Genesis, the Gospels show the new Adam pulled from Mary. Paul and many others refer to Jesus as the new Adam, but is Mary really in the position of the new Eve? Let’s look at what Eve did and see what Mary does in contrast:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
With envy, rebellion, and pride, Eve, the mother of all the living, begins the fall of Mankind. She doesn’t cause the fall, but she paves the way for the fall of Adam with her sin.
Like Eve, Mary is visited by an angel; however this time the visitation is by a holy one instead of a fallen one:
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[b] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[c] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Many early Christian writers say that, at this very point, all of heaven held its breath. Mary was free to say no. The fate of the universe rested on this young lady saying Yes to God. Just like Adam and Eve’s choice in the garden that led to universal doom, this choice began the process of redemption so that Christ’s work could begin- and ultimately save us.
In Latin “Mary” and “Eve” are the same letters spelled backwards. The Church used this as an illustration of how Mary undoes the sin of Eve and reverses the tide of sin. Eve says No to God and yes to her own desires. Mary says, ““Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
After the Fall, God speaks to the serpent and announces that his rule will come to an end. This is the first glimpse of the gospel message:
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall [d]bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
All of God’s people prior to Christ’s arrival took hope in this passage. But who was this prophesied woman? Further what does “her seed” mean? Jewish rabbis debated that last question with a variety of opinions, but the riddle is finally answered in the incarnation. Mary gives her flesh to be formed into Jesus, as the creed states, “incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
When Jesus talks to his mother the most common term he uses is “woman”. Is this a sign of disrespect? Far from it, Jesus abides by the whole law including the commandment to “Honor your father and mother”. Jesus honors Mary. The term, “woman” is a direct reference to Genesis, when God tells the first people about their coming salvation and the eventual defeat of the serpent. God starts this story by talking about Mary.
Jesus is the new Adam, but because the new Covenant is greater than the Old, Jesus is far superior to the old Adam in every way. So, why would the new Eve (Mary) be inferior to the first Eve? The first Eve is called “The mother of all the living” because of her physical relationship with all mankind. Does Mary have such a relationship spiritually? Eve was made sinless out of the un-cursed earth. Was Mary born sinless? Did God make her out of un-cursed earth as well?
We will look at all of those questions in detail, but let’s stick with the mystery of the incarnation for a bit and talk about the implications of Jesus being made from the material drawn out of Mary. Paul says in Romans 11:
If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
This is straight out of the first-fruits offering laws in Leviticus. In sacrificial law, if part of a lump of dough or part of an animal is sacrificed, the whole thing becomes Holy. Christ is the Sacrifice that completes the sacrificial system. Further, Scripture calls him, “The first-fruits” (1 Cor. 15:20). It was His body that hung on the cross, atoning for our sin. That same body was drawn from the body of Mary. Jesus violates none of the laws of the Old Covenant, and He doesn’t violate this one, either. Scripture shows here that because Jesus’ body, our sacrifice, was drawn out of the Virgin Mary, that means she was made holy because of Jesus. So, not only is it fitting that she was created sinless like Eve was, but it is required by sacrificial law.
Now let’s talk about the un-cursed vs the cursed earth. God says, “Let us make man” and then He takes the dust of the earth and breathes into it the breath of life. Who is “Us”? Simply interpreted, it is God and the earth. Why? Because the earth that God created supplies the dust and God supplies the breath. The two together made man. But later the ground itself is cursed by God as a result of the Fall of mankind. Adam was made out of dust prior to the curse. Eve was made of the same dust by being drawn from the flesh of Adam.
The New Adam must be made of un-cursed earth just like the old Adam. Jesus was not made of earth that was cursed by his Father. No, his body, blood, soul, and divinity was, is, and will always be completely holy. So, where did Jesus get the “dust” that made up his body? His body was drawn out of the body of Mary. So, what does that imply about Mary’s body? It means that Mary’s body was un-cursed earth. When God hovers over the waters in Genesis, He hovers over an un-cursed creation, a holy one. When God hovers over the temple of Israel and over the Ark of the Covenant, it is holy, sinless, and certainty not cursed by God. When God overshadows Mary to bring about the new creation of the world in Christ, God overshadows a sinless vessel once again.
Does this mean that Jesus isn’t her savior because she didn’t have sin? No, of course she was saved by Jesus. If Jesus had not chosen her to be “incarnate of” then she would have been subject to sin. But Jesus saves her from sin from the beginning, in the same way He saves us all, by becoming the sacrifice for our sins.
But wait, doesn’t Paul write that, “There is no one righteous, no, not one”? (Rom. 3:10) Doesn’t this disprove Mary being sinless? Well, if it truly meant that no one is righteous that would mean Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, can’t be righteous either, but that is definitely not true. So what is it saying? First, I would say it is talking about a type. If I say all dogs have four legs, that is true. That is a fact about things called dogs because it relates to the nature of what it means to be a dog. If someone shows me a three legged dog, this does nothing to disprove the former statement because I am not talking about all individual cases, but instead describing the type.
Humans are all sinful because we as a kind have original sin, but like the proverbial three legged dog, Jesus is exempt from this classification because He was born without original sin. Mary was also such that she could be a holy place for God’s presence to dwell. If God made a wooden box called the Ark of the Covenant holy (more on that later), He can certainly do the same with the creation He calls “very good”. All that aside, Paul is quoting Psalms 14 here:
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
6 You would shame the plans of the poor,
but[b] the Lord is his refuge.
Just two verses later the generation of the righteous is mentioned. Far from two people being exempted from the statement, the Psalmist exempts a whole generation. Why does he do this? Because he is writing in the way I described above. He is commenting on the state of this fallen world where everyone is turned against God and doing evil. He, like Paul, is not trying to make a comment on the sum of all individual people but instead is naming a kind.
Adam and Eve were not just anyone in God’s creation. They were the King and Queen of all creation.
God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
Christ, the new Adam, is definitely our King, but why does the Catholic Church refer to Mary as a Queen? Is it because they are somehow equal? Obviously not. Anyone who would ever think that Mary is anything other than a human is automatically kicked out out of the Catholic Church, in the same way that anyone who thinks Jesus is any less than God is excommunicated. Obviously no one thinks they are equal, since Mary is a human and Jesus is God. So, in what sense is Mary a Queen, and how would we know?
First off, in the Old Testament, the mother of the king is the queen. Kings in the Old Testament often had more than one wife, so which one would be queen? The solution was to make the king’s mother to be the queen, because kings only have one mother.
1 Kings 2:19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king arose to meet her, bowed before her, and sat on his throne; then he had a throne set for the king's mother, and she sat on his right.
Jesus’ mother is Mary. Jesus is the King, ergo Mary is Queen. There is plenty more proof than that, though. Here is what the Angel Gabriel says when he meets Mary.
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
This is how it is typically translated, but here the word “Greetings” in Greek (Χαῖρε Chaire), means “Hail”. It is the greeting of a king or queen. In fact, the only other time it is used in the New Testament is when Jesus is greeted. In the Old Testament, the equivalent Hebrew word is only used for kings. When angels meet people in the Bible, a typical response is the person falling down in worship, and the angel has to tell them to stop and listen to the message. When the great archangel Gabriel meets Mary, he greets her as a queen.
So, there is evidence from Genesis, the kingdom of Israel, and the Gospels. Let’s jump all the way to the Book of Revelation to complete our sweep of Scripture.
Revelation 11:19, 12:2-5
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”[a] And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
Who is the male child who will rule the nations? Jesus, of course. Who is this woman who birthed him? It is Mary. Mary is seen in heaven by John crowned with the stars, clothed in the sun, and with the moon at her feet. There she is, in heaven, crowned as a queen.
I have mentioned the Ark of the Covenant a few times. That is the next comparison I will be making, so keep in mind that, although there is a chapter division between Revelation 11 and 12, dividing the ark from our sight of Mary, there is no such thing in the original text. John is equating the Ark to the woman he sees. Each of the visions John sees are punctuated by a phrase like “and then”. The Ark and the Woman are thereby the same vision. But first, what is the role of the queen? In Israel, it was to listen to the concerns of the people and bring them to the king. Here is an example:
1 Kings 2:19-25
19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king arose to meet her, bowed before her, and sat on his throne; then he had a throne set for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right.
20 Then she said, “I am making one small request of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Ask, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” 21 So she said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as a wife.” 22 King Solomon answered and said to his mother, “And why are you asking Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him also the kingdom—for he is my older brother—even for him, for Abiathar the priest, and for Joab the son of Zeruiah!” 23 Then King Solomon swore by the Lord, saying, “May God do so to me and more also, if Adonijah has not spoken this word against his own [q]life. 24 Now therefore, as the Lord lives, who has established me and set me on the throne of David my father and who has made me a house as He promised, surely Adonijah shall be put to death today.” 25 So King Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him so that he died.
Another powerful example is the book of Esther. The whole book is about the queen pleading on behalf of her people. The queen is the mother to all of her people, and a mother prays for her children, pleading to God of their behalf.
All of the tribes of Israel and Judah came from the patriarch Jacob. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, and while not literally seen as the mother of all the tribes, she was seen in Jewish tradition as their spiritual mother. This is reflected in the gospels after the slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem by Herod:
"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
Why is this voice in Ramah? Because she died near there on her way to Bethlehem. In fact, at the time of Christ, and to this day, Jews still go to Rachel’s tomb to ask her to pray to God for them. Far from countering this tradition, the Bible reinforces that Rachel is actively weeping and mourning for her children when the infants are killed. Her concern for her people continues after her death, as Scripture attests.
Before we talk about Mary and her role in praying for us, let’s address the similarities between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant:
Made for the purpose of carrying the presence of God.
Lives in the Temple.
When it returns to the temple after being captured by the Philistines, it travels travels to the hill country of Judah.
When David sees the Ark return he says, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?”
David leaps and dances before the Ark.
After the trip through the hill country, the Ark returns home and then to Jerusalem.
Made for the purpose of carrying the presence of God.
Lived in the Temple as a child, as a consecrated virgin (more on this later).
Travels to the hill country of Judah to visit Elisabeth, who is in the line of David.
John the Baptist leaps in the womb at Mary’s arrival.
Mary returns home and then to Jerusalem.
Let’s revisit that section of Revelation:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
The early Christians saw all the parallels that I listed and see this as John specifically calling Mary the new Ark. What is seen in the temple? It is a great sign. What was the sign? It was the woman who is the new Ark of the Covenant.
Prophecies of the Messiah held that, before the Messiah would return, the long-lost Ark of the Covenant must be brought back. The Messiah did come, so how did the Ark come back except in the womb of Mary?
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkles blood on the mercy seat above the Ark. The mercy seat is over top of the Ark, between two cherubim with their wings stretched out. This is the very place of atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. Where are our sins atoned? In Christ, on the cross. Who are beside him? Instead of two cherubim, God, who has humbled Himself to become man, has two thieves with their arms stretched out on crosses. What is at the base of the Cross? His mother, Mary, just like the Ark is at the base of the mercy seat to support it. God recreates the Day of Atonement, not in the Holy of Holies. No, the veil has been torn and all can see on Calvary’s hill how God saves His people.
It is from the cross that Jesus lifts Himself up from the nails to breathe and says to the disciple whom He loves, “Behold, your mother” and to His mother, “Behold, your son”. Are you a disciple that Jesus loves? Yes, you are, and that is what John is trying to tell you in his account. The Crucifixion is for you because Jesus loves you, and, because He loves you, He gives you His mother.
This tells us a number of things. First, for multiple reasons, we know that Mary never had any other children. It would have been a slap in the face to those children if Jesus entrusted His mother to John, assuming Jesus had any brothers or sisters.
On that subject, I mentioned that Mary grew up in the temple as a consecrated virgin. Her perpetual virginity is mentioned at the Annunciation when she tells Gabriel, “How will I have a son if I am a virgin?”. Surely Mary knows how babies are made. That question makes little sense unless, as the word she uses suggests, she has become a consecrated virgin at the Temple. Then why did she marry Joseph? We know through early writings from the Church (The Proto-Evangelium of James) that Joseph was chosen by lot to take care of Mary after her service in the Temple. Joseph was directly told by God to marry her. This caused a scandal amongst the elders, as he only was meant to become her legal guardian.
I won’t get into all of the reasons why the Church has always known that Mary remained a virgin for her whole life, but let me name a few:
If you touch the Ark of the Covenant, you may get killed on the spot- as seen in the Old Testament. The Ark was set aside for God. Mary, although entrusted to Joseph, was set aside for God.
All early writings say so. No early writings say otherwise.
No one in history ever claims to be a brother or sister of Jesus.
Even the Protestant reformers defended Mary’s perpetual virginity.
Claims that Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in the Bible don’t stand up to textual criticism, since the word also refers to cousins. We do know he had cousins through Mary, the wife of Clopis.
Getting back to Mary being given to us as a mother, there are a few points to make. First, if Eve is the mother of all who live according to the flesh of Adam, then Mary would be the mother of all who live in the flesh of Jesus.
As Paul says, in Baptism we are joined into the body of Christ, and so we will be raised in Christ. It is by being joined into His body that we share in the resurrection. If we are part of the body of Christ, and the mother of Christ is Mary, then that makes Mary our mother.
A word about default positions. Through historical happenstance, I came to understand Christianity first as a Protestant. Catholic doctrines seemed foreign and new to me. My knee-jerk reaction was to reject them and cling to what I knew. Few things were more foreign than Catholic doctrines about Mary. What I learned is that it doesn’t matter if it seems new or foreign to me. The only question that matters is, is it new or foreign to Christianity? I don’t want to worship with my own religion, based on my own presuppositions, study, reasoning, and historical happenstance. I want to worship with the church Jesus sent the Apostles to establish.
Doctrines about Mary are not new or foreign to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that Christians have always professed in our creed. As early as the second century, not long after Mary died, there are prayers to her scratched into prison walls by persecuted Christians asking her to pray for them.
In 140 AD, Justin Martyr, who was taught by Polycarp, who was taught by John the apostle, taught (the same John who took Mary into his home), taught that Mary was the new Eve.
In 155 AD, Justin Martyr says that Mary was sinless.
In 233 AD, Origen writes about holy souls praying for us.
In 248 AD, Origen writes about her perpetual virginity. Not as a new idea, but as an old one in his commentary on Matthew.
In 431 AD, the Council of Ephesus declares Mary as the “Theotokos”, or the God Bearer. The result: people leaving their homes and celebrating in the streets. To get an idea of how early in Christianity this is, only a few decades earlier an official Canon of Scripture was established (382 AD).
Of all doctrines that seem foreign and flat out wrong to Protestant ears, it has to be the Theotokos, or Mother of God. Here is what it doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that Mary is the mother of the Trinity. It doesn’t mean that Mary is the Mother of Christ’s Divinity. It also doesn’t mean that Mary is the mother of only Christ’s Body.
If a mother gives birth only to a body but not a spirit, it is called a still birth. Mothers bear children, persons. Jesus is a person and was born as a person, fully God and fully man. These two natures were not divided at birth or prior to it. In the womb, even as an embryo, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Jesus is fully Divine, yes. Mary is also actually His mom because He is also fully man.
By defining Mary as truly having given birth to God in the person of Jesus the Christ, a wall was created against the heresies of the day that sought to tarnish Jesus’ divinity.
Do Catholics worship Mary?
The answer is absolutely not. No. Never have, never will. Worship of Mary is a heresy. Unfortunately, a lot of Protestants think that the Catholic Church does. One of the reasons for this and other misinformation about the Catholic Church is the massive amount of anti-Catholic propaganda that England propagated against Catholic France, Ireland, and Spain during their numerous wars. This propaganda influenced our first settlers heavily. In fact, many of the first states (like Massachusetts) banned Catholics from holding public office or voting, relegating them to second class citizens.
Anti-Catholic bias has been called by many historians, “The oldest American prejudice”. Throughout the mid to late 19th century, riots broke out in cities like Philadelphia and NYC, where mobs killed Catholic immigrants and even rolled cannons into the streets to shoot Catholic churches while the people worshipped inside.
Thankfully, open violence has mostly subsided, with the conflict in Ireland being the only hold over of England's Protestant aggression, but the propaganda wars have not. Jack Chick has produced enormous amounts of anti-Catholic tracts with embarrassingly deceitful charges against Catholicism. Famously, he calls the Eucharist, which has been the center of Christian worship for thousands of years, a “Death Cookie”.
All this to say, If you want to know what Catholics believe, then ask the Catholics. Don’t believe people who are anti-Catholic and tragically misinformed.
Here is what the Catholic Church actually teaches about honoring Mary. First, if you offer the worship meant for God to Mary, you will be automatically ex-communicated. The Church teaches that “Latria” is meant for God alone. This word means worship. Then, there is “Dulia”, which means honor, respect, or admiration. Dulia is appropriate for people who have done great things. The Apostle Paul deserves Dulia because it is appropriate to honor great people for what they have done.
Mary deserves “Hyper-dulia”, which is the greatest honor that can be shown to a human. It is no where close to what is shown to God. Not even the same word. Why should she be shown this much honor? Simple, because Jesus obeyed the commandment to “Honor your father and mother”. Jesus honored His parents more than anyone else who ever existed. If we are to be like Christ, we should honor Mary (and Joseph) too. Mary has a special place because she deserves the honor and respect of a Queen, as discussed above. Further, since Mary was given to us as our mother, as evidenced by both Christ’s words on the cross and by virtue of being part of Christ’s body, that commandment applies to us.
Some Protestants see prayers to Mary as worship, or songs to Mary as worship. Here is the problem with that. There is absolutely no problem to sing about something that is important to you. In country songs, singers wax eloquent about their pickup trucks, but this is not worship. In churches, we sing about the Old Rugged Cross, but we are not worshipping a piece of wood.
As for prayer, the word “Pray” is old. In Shakespeare’s time one might say, “I pray you pass the salt” at the dinner table. It simply means to ask. So what are we asking Mary? We are asking her to pray to God for us. Basically, we are asking her to ask God. This is no different that asking you to pray for me. I could say this using older English, “I pray you pray to God for me”.
The most common prayer to Mary is called the “Hail Mary”. Let’s break it down and see what it says:
Hail Mary, Full of Grace
This is a direct quote of Scripture. It is the greeting that Gabriel gives Mary, which is why Christians for thousands of years have greeted her the same way. If it’s good enough for the Archangel Gabriel, it’s good enough for us.
Why, “Hail”? Because she is being addressed as Queen. Remember, this is not just an angel speaking. Angel means messenger, and, as such, this is the message of God that He is relating to Mary (and us).
Why “Full of Grace”? In a sense, we are all full of God’s grace, to the extent that we allow God to indwell us with His divine love. Mary is so filled with the love of God that Jesus is literally inside of her. You just don’t get more full of grace than that.
The Lord is with you.
Again, this part is Scripture. How can the Lord be more with you than having Jesus in one’s womb? Furthermore, God is with her in the sense that God was with all people in Scripture who were in His friendship and part of God’s mission. Her mission was the greatest one yet, becoming the very place of the Incarnation.
Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
These are the words of Elisabeth, as moved by the Holy Spirit. Certainly, we agree that Mary is blessed, and certainly Jesus is blessed.
Holy Mary, mother of God
Why do we say holy? Well, the presence of God cannot reside in an unholy vessel. This is why the Ark of the Covenant is holy. This is why the tabernacle is called holy. Further, holy means something which is set aside for God’s use. Mary is certainly being used by God.
We have already addressed why she is called “mother of God”; this is an affirmation of the deity of Christ from His conception.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
As the mother of the King, her role in the Kingdom is to bring the requests of the people to God. Could God do it Himself? Of course He could! None of us are necessary, but God wants to include us. Christ preaches of the Kingdom of God throughout the gospels. His resurrection inaugurates that Kingdom’s reign and simultaneously defeats the kingdom of darkness.
The Bible says, “the prayers of a righteous man avails much”. I think it is safe to assume Mary is righteous. Scripture commands us to pray for one another. Mary is not exempt from this command, and she is definitely not going to sin in the presence of God by ignoring that command; therefore, we know for a fact that she is praying for us.
Why do we ask her to specifically pray at the hour of our death? Because Jesus wanted her to be at the base of the cross, at the hour of his death. If Jesus wanted her at his death, we should too.
That is the whole prayer: quoting scripture, an affirmation of Christ’s divinity, and asking her to pray for us. Give it a try.
I have heard people say, sure, maybe the Catholic Church doesn’t specifically teach worshiping Mary, but they have seen with their own eyes Catholics who have done so. Often pressed, they mean prayer, which I already addressed. Or songs, which I also addressed, or sometimes statues, which I will address right now.
The Catholic Church has always loved art. Painting, sculpture, music, dance, poetry, theater, stained glass, architecture, and more have been celebrated. The Church, for most of its history, served illiterate people. Its Churches were designed to tell the Gospel story without words.
Statues of important people are part of that culture. We have a huge statue of Lewis and Clark 25 minutes from our house, marking where they departed to explore Louisiana Territory. These statues are powerful reminders of the roles they played in history. No one worships those Lewis and Clark statues. God does not care for one moment that we have made such statues. If those two explorers merit a statue, how much more should the important people of salvation history? How much more important is it to remember them?
No one in the Church is making statues to bow down and worship them. Occasionally, people of Asian or South American cultures will bow and make all of us caucasian, english-speaking Catholics feel uncomfortable, but that’s it. In such cultures, they also might bow to their elders. They have a different way of showing “Dulia” than we do, but their heart is in the right place. If it’s not, that’s for God to judge. The Church would kick them out if they were offering worship.
Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s true- Catholics are actually worshiping saints like Mary. Let me explain this using my taco analogy.
Imagine that a group of family restaurants started serving tacos. This would make them taco restaurants. Alternatively, if all of the customers started ordering only tacos from family run restaurants (which had a otherwise wide menu), then those restaurants would also become taco restaurants.
On the other hand, what if McDonald’s started serving only tacos? Or if the customers demanded only tacos? It wouldn't matter. They are a burger place. They were founded as a burger place, their company documents say it’s a burger restaurant. They haven’t become a taco restaurant. They are still a burger place but one that is out of line with its actual mission.
The family restaurants are like Protestant churches, locally run and more loosely constrained by official teachings or documents. The Catholic Church is more like McDonald’s. It is standardized. The “company documents” are binding forever, and they will not change.
Even if all the individual Catholics go bad, the Church hasn’t. The Church is more than the sum of its people, or a rough average of the people, or a pastor’s beliefs.
In the McDonald’s scenario, if you found a restaurant that had gone rogue, anyone could walk in and, with the authority of McDonald’s Corporate, demand they return to their original mission. The same is true within the Catholic Church.
Famously, the Pope decided, at one time, to leave Rome and set up in France instead (during the Middle Ages). This was just one of many problems the Church had at the time. A young lady named Catherine of Sienna walked to find the Pope and demanded that the Church be set back to right. It worked. That young girl confronted the Pope with the authority of the Church.
Here is something to reflect on as I wrap up. Jesus didn’t need to have been born to be Incarnated and die for our sins. He could have been formed out of the dust outside of Jerusalem as a 30 year old man and walked in through the east gate of the city as a stranger. He could have descended to earth just like he ascended to heaven after the resurrection. He could have come in a pillar of fire or smoke and appeared at the Temple. He could have come to earth in Elijah’s fiery Chariot. There are millions of great ways Jesus could have come to us, but He wanted to come as a baby.
Jesus wanted Mary as His mom. Jesus, the same “Word” that John says created all things, created Mary to be His mother. The Father chose Joseph to be the father of His Son. God, in the person of the Son, wanted to spend 30 of His 33 years living with Mary and Joseph. The Bible says that Jesus was obedient to them. The Creator of the whole universe decided to be a child in a family.
If Jesus wanted Mary to be His mother, shouldn’t we do the same? If Jesus created Mary and then honored her as His mother, shouldn’t we honor her, too?
Paul writes that, “One part of the body cannot say to the other part, ‘I have no need of you’”. We cannot, as Bible believing Christians, say that we have no need of the saints in heaven like Mary. We do need them. What are they doing that we might need? They are praying, as shown in the book of Revelation.
Okay, there are a few, less connected things I want to address in Catholicism in general, so the next section will be a bit disconnected.
I’d like to reiterate these are not just my opinions vs the opinions of what a Protestant scholar might say. If it is my understanding alone vs some one like Charles Spurgeon, then sure, he should be believed over me any day. However, that is not the case. I am simply repeating what has been said by the same Church which created the Canon of Scripture. The same Church which defined the Trinity, defined the divinity of Christ, nonviolently overthrew the empire that killed Christ, and stayed unified for a thousand years across the globe. Please, read writings from those who were taught by the apostle John, or those only a generation after, and see that from the earliest days the Church was Catholic.
The idea that we should not pray to the saints is new and not Christian. It didn’t come about for 1500 years after Christ. It is the same with the idea that Mary wasn’t sinless or perpetually a virgin, or a queen etc… these weren’t new doctrines- the Catholic position is the original position of all Christians as taught by the apostles.
I am always happy to explain and defend the Catholic position, but in a sense I shouldn't have to. The ones making the new claim (that which isn’t regular historic Christianity) should have the burden of proof, not the Catholic.