Devotion to Mary Makes a Comeback
“VENERATION for Mary Renewed—Pope leads resurgence of interest in Jesus’ mother.” That four-column headline in the Toronto Star, capping an article that spoke of the upswing of “devotion to the Virgin Mary,” is typical of reports published all over the world. “The Pope has an intense devotion to the Virgin,” wrote the New York Times, adding, by way of proof, that John Paul II has recently visited Marian shrines in Mexico, Poland, Italy and Ireland. In fact, according to Paris daily Le Monde, his entire visit to Ireland had as its keynote “Mary Queen of Peace.”
True, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) reaffirmed the traditional Catholic dogmas concerning Mary, but it is generally admitted that Vatican II caused a decline in the devotion to Mary among Catholics in many lands. Already back in 1974, Pope Paul VI felt it necessary to publish a 30,000-word “apostolic exhortation,” Marialis Cultus (Marian devotion or worship), calling for increased devotion to the “Virgin Mary.”
Quite obviously John Paul II feels that Marian devotions need more attention. So he is putting the full weight of his papal authority behind the campaign for renewed devotion to Mary. But what effect is his stand on this dogma likely to have?
Worship of Mary Made a Slow Start
Catholic reference works freely admit that worship of Mary does not go back to apostolic times. The Catholic Encyclopedia states:
“Devotion to Our Blessed Lady in its ultimate analysis must be regarded as a practical application of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. Seeing that this doctrine is not contained, at least explicitly, in the earlier forms of the Apostles’ Creed, there is perhaps no ground for surprise if we do not meet with any clear traces of the cultus [worship] of the Blessed Virgin in the first Christian centuries.”
The original Nicene Creed (325 C.E.) makes no mention of the “Virgin Mary.” It was not until the Council of Ephesus, held in 431 C.E., that Mary was defined in Catholic dogma as the “Mother of God” (Greek: Theotokos, literally “God-bearer”). And even then, this was more for Trinitarian reasons (to combat Nestorius, who denied that Jesus was brought forth God-Man) than to encourage devotion to Mary. Why this lack of attention to the devotion to Mary?
Because the practice is based, not on the Bible, but on Apocryphal literature, such as the so-called “Gospel of St. James” and the Sibylline Oracles. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, it was only in the later Middle Ages, after the year 1000, “that the deep feeling of love and confidence in the Blessed Virgin, which hitherto had expressed itself vaguely and in accordance with the promptings of the piety of individuals, began to take organized shape in a vast multitude of devotional practices.” It was at that time that many of the medieval Gothic cathedrals throughout France were built and dedicated to Notre Dame (Our Lady).
As to the “Angelic Salutation” (Ave Maria, or Hail Mary), A Catholic Dictionary informs us that “Parts 1 and 2 seem to have come into common use as a formula of devotion towards the end of the twelfth century; . . . the rest of the verse is believed to have first come into use in the middle of the fifteenth century.” Very late indeed!
The doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception,” which claims that Mary was exempted from original sin from the first moment of her conception, did not become an article of Catholic faith until 1854. Why? The same Catholic reference work tells us that controversy over this doctrine had been raging within the Catholic Church since the 12th century and that some “bishops of great eminence” felt that this dogma had insufficient support in “Scripture or Tradition to be made an article of faith.”
Devotion to Mary received another boost as recently as 1950, when Pope Pius XII defined the “Corporal Assumption of the Blessed Virgin” (that her body was not allowed to decay, but was taken to heaven) as an article of faith, that is, as an obligatory belief for Catholics. It is not strange that fundamental dogmas relating to such devotion came so late if the adoration of Mary is God’s will for Christians?
Did Mary Have Other Children?
No Bible-believing Christian doubts that Mary was a virgin when she conceived and bore Jesus. (Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:34, 35) The dogma that separates Catholics from Protestants and that is now even dividing Catholics is the perpetual virginity of Mary. Two recently published books, both involving Catholic authors, provide a new approach to the question of devotion to Mary.
One, written in English by a group of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican scholars, is entitled “Mary in the New Testament.” Explaining the reason for writing this book, coauthor Joseph A. Fitzmyer, of the Catholic University of America, stated:
“Modern Catholics tend to think that everything in our 20th century piety comes from the New Testament, but quite often what we are used to is not what the scriptural writer had in mind but rather the reflections of believers in subsequent centuries.”
Commenting on this book, Tom Harpur, religion editor of the Toronto Star, wrote:
“The team was divided over whether the evidence points to Mary’s having had other children after Jesus or not. . . .
“The book notes, though, that a 1976 commentary by German Roman Catholic scholar Rudolph Pesch comes out with the blunt opinion that these relatives were indeed natural brothers.
“As to the two later doctrines—that Mary was immaculately conceived without sin and later ascended bodily into heaven—the scholars have little to say due to the fact that there is nothing in the New Testament about either belief.”
The other book, written in French by Catholic author Jean Gilles, is called Les “frères et sœurs” de Jesus (Jesus’ “brothers and sisters”). It has caused much controversy among French Catholics. And no wonder, for in conclusion the author states:
“Briefly and in measured language, out of faithfulness to the [Catholic] Church, I believe I can sum up my investigation as follows. . . . The FOUR CANONICAL Gospels provide concordant evidence that Jesus had real brothers and sisters in his family. . . . In the face of this coherent block of proof, the traditional position [of the Roman Catholic Church] seems vulnerable and fragile.”
The Dangers of Devotion to Mary
Acknowledging the dangers of devotion to Mary, The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “That popular devotion to the Blessed Virgin was often attended with extravagance and abuses, it is impossible to deny.” As far back as the end of the fourth century, Catholic “saint” Epiphanius condemned the offering of cakes to Mary, stating: “Let no one adore Mary.” The same encyclopedia tells us: “As early as 540 we find a mosaic in which she [Mary] sits enthroned as Queen of Heaven in the centre of the apex of the cathedral of Parenzo.”
Was it not exactly this kind of pagan worship that provoked God to anger back in the time of Israel? The Bible relates: “The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.”—Jer. 7:18; 44:15-30.*
This danger still exists. Daniel L. Migliore, associate professor of theology at Princeton Seminary, recently wrote: “Our violations of Mary are legion. . . . We have made her the Queen of Heaven.” Catholic Archbishop Carter of Toronto gave the following explanation of the reason why Vatican II tried to tone down adoration for Mary: “The Council had in mind the kind of abuses seen, for example, in some Latin-American countries where Mary sometimes took precedence over everything else.” The “abuses” to which adoration for Mary can lead become very visible at such places of Marian pilgrimage as Lourdes, in France, and Fatima, in Portugal.
In addition to the danger for Catholics, Mariolatry is undoubtedly a divisive factor within Christendom, since most Protestants reject devotion to Mary as idolatry. And the information given above shows that Catholics are divided among themselves over the Scripturalness of Marian dogmas.
It is therefore clear that by reviving the adoration of Mary, Pope John Paul II is doing nothing to unite Catholics among themselves or to draw them nearer to the other religions of Christendom. Worse still, he is doing nothing to revive true Christianity as it was practiced by the apostles and early disciples of Christ.
A Balanced View of Mary
The purpose of this article is certainly not to offend sincere Catholics, especially Catholic womenfolk who have come to consider Mary a loving and tender intercessor, someone who understands the sufferings of womanhood. The Bible allows us to respect and even love Mary as a faithful disciple of Jesus. (Acts 1:14) The Scriptures clearly show that Mary, as an anointed Christian, would be “raised a spiritual body,” to “inherit the kingdom of God,” together with the 12 apostles and other faithful first-century Christians.—1 Cor. 15:42-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-16.
However, nowhere does the Bible authorize us to adore Mary or to pray to her for intercession. Prayers should be addressed to God, through Christ. (John 14:6, 13; Acts 4:12) Catholic women, and men, too, should not feel that they will find less sympathy and understanding when they pray to God in the name of Christ than when they prayed to Mary.
Of God we read: “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:13, 14) And of Christ it is written: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”—Heb. 4:15; see also Philippians 4:6, 7.
So we invite sincere Catholics who pour out their heart to Mary to learn from the Bible how to pray just as intimately to God through Christ. Start off by reading the above scriptures, all taken from the Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version. Then get more information by writing to the publishers of Awake!
All scriptures quoted in this article are taken from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition.
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LET THE BIBLE SPEAK FOR ITSELF
Was Mary the Mother of God?
“Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God [not God].”—Luke 1:35.
Was Mary Born Without Sin?
“If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; . . . And when the days of her purifying are completed, . . . she shall bring to the priest at the door of the tent of meeting a lamb . . . And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” (Lev. 12:2, 6, 8) “And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they [Joseph and Mary] brought him [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord . . . and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons [one as a burnt offering, the other as a sin offering for Mary].’”—Luke 2:22, 24.
Did Mary Remain a Virgin After Jesus’ Birth?
“He [Joseph] took his wife, but knew her not [“had not had intercourse with her”—Catholic Jerusalem Bible] until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.”—Matt. 1:24, 25.
Did Mary have other children after the birth of Jesus?
“She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths.” (Luke 2:7) “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brethren [Greek: adelphoi, “brothers,” not syngenēs, “kinsfolk” or “cousins”] James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?”—Matt. 13:55, 56.
By “Brothers,” Could the Bible Be Referring to Jesus’ Disciples, His Spiritual Brothers?
“After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brethren and his disciples.” (John 2:12) “So his brethren said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing.’ For even his brethren did not believe in him.”—John 7:3, 5.
Was Mary’s Physical Body Taken to Heaven?
“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”—1 Cor. 15:42, 44, 50.
Should Prayers Be Addressed to Mary?
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.’”—John 14:6, 13.